It was through those groups that we officially launched the church with a total of 10 small groups. It was through those first two small groups that we began our partnerships with Lincoln Park Community Shelter (serving the homeless community), Prescott Elementary School (building a tutoring program), and Larrabee Apartments (serving seniors in subsidized housing). It was through those first two small groups that we were able to host House Parties—our "wide net" events where we invited people into the vision and mission of what we were up to.
Like The District Church, Lincoln Park|Old Town is a church of small groups. Their goal is to consistently have at least 75 percent of their church connected in groups. When they launched, they had nearly 100 percent of the adults in small groups. Today, 120 people gather every Sunday at Lincoln Park|Old Town to worship. Small groups are the backbone to growing their church "not just in numbers, but in depth." Metcalf went on to say, "We use our groups to develop leaders through apprenticeship. It also helps us develop a leadership pipeline for the next church or campus we launch."
With the goal of multiplying campuses into the many neighborhoods of Chicago, Metcalf and his team are already thinking about how they might reproduce their church in a new location. And small groups are the key to their plan—both in preparing potential leaders and in establishing a new location. More than just a place for fellowship, small groups at Lincoln Park|Old Town are essential to developing disciples, training apprentices, and multiplying the church's vision.
The Newest Church Planters
With so many success stories of church plants using small groups to launch, many brand-new church plants plan to use small groups. Spence Shelton of The Summit Church is preparing to launch a new church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Even now in the early stages of preparing to launch, Shelton and his team know that small groups will "play a big role from the get-go." He explains, "We are recruiting a launch team of around 50 people. For those 50, we will build at least 5 small groups and have a functioning small-group ministry before we launch services to the public."
Small groups aren't just a method for church planting to Shelton, but the way to launch a church that has healthy, long-term discipleship as a core value. Groups will set that value from the beginning and create a clear pathway for discipleship as their church plant launches and grows. They understand that methods can communicate and reinforce values.
A Model for Success
In all three of the church plants that I talked to, small groups were established before the church launched, and much of the church's ministry is done through groups. Small groups are used to instill values and vision, as well as help people connect in biblical community to form a healthy base of relationships for the church plant. And all three church plants used small groups as a way to develop leaders—both to launch the church and to lead the church plant after launch.