Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool Develop a Group Strategy.
John Maxwell once said, "Everything rises and falls on leadership." While this may be a bit of an overstatement, one thing is for sure: an effective leader is necessary if anything of substance is going to be accomplished. But what drives an effective leader? What keeps a leader in the game when things get tough? What inspires a leader to give his or her life to a particular goal? Vision is what makes a leader great. In fact, visionless leaders aren't leaders at all—they're managers.
Managers supervise an efficient workforce through which the necessary work is completed in a timely and effective fashion. They make sure tasks are accomplished. Leaders, on the other hand, have the ability to obtain and retain followers by organizing, unifying, and directing them to accomplish a God-given vision.
Small-group ministry is full of point people who are managers. What today's church needs is small-group point people who are leaders, people who have a vision in mind and will organize and inspire people to join them in seeing that yet unrealized vision become a present reality. Effective leaders have a vision in their hearts that is inescapable.
But what exactly is vision? Vision is a mental image of the final outcome, a preferred future you long to see and believe will become a reality. Throughout history God has given people visions that guided their work and brought their hearts to life. Moses was given a vision by God and led God's people out of Egypt. Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the Jerusalem wall. The apostles had a vision to build Jesus' church. Great and God-sized goals are determined and accomplished when leaders embrace a God-given vision.
The Results of Vision
How might having a clear, compelling, and God-sized vision affect your ministry? There are four amazing outcomes:
Find the Right Leaders
Vision is the most important tool you have for recruiting team members, coaches, and group leaders. Too many church leaders ask people to join their team because there's a need. People who step up do so out of benevolence, not necessarily because they believe in the small-group ministry. They'll lack passion for the goals of the ministry, and this apathy will soon spill over onto others.
Recruiting team members through vision makes it possible to retain people for the long haul. People who join the small-group ministry because they believe in the vision for the ministry are committed. They long to see the vision become a reality, so they're likely to stay on the team for years to come—even until the vision is realized.
Choose an Effective Strategy
Vision must inform the group strategy if you want to see success. Creating a long-term strategy for small-group ministry is very difficult for many. Often this is because the point person has no vision for where they want the ministry to go. Without a vision, it's difficult to choose a strategy that will result in a good outcome. On the other hand, when a point person has a clear vision, it's much easier to build an effective strategy to move the ministry toward the desired outcome.
Unify the Ministry
A deeply instilled vision is the unifying factor for the entire small-group ministry team. When everyone is on the same page, dreaming the same dream, there are fewer points of dissension, less concern for who gets the spotlight, and a shared passion that infiltrates the heart of every team member.
What's Your Vision?
You'll know you've embraced a vision from God for your ministry when it's a God-sized vision. God never calls his people to accomplish something that is within their own ability to accomplish. Hebrews 11 gives us an incredible list of those people who accomplished God-sized goals. They accomplished their work by living by faith.
When creating the vision statement for your ministry:
- Pray passionately for God's guidance.
- Imagine the unimaginable.
- Silence the voices in your mind that whisper, "That can't be done," or "You're not the right person to do that."
- Surround yourself with other dreamers and visionaries.
- Include language that captures the imagination.
Once you have a vision in mind, the next step is to create a statement that describes that vision. This statement should be succinct, easy to memorize, and relevant but not so trendy that it won't relate to people for decades to come.
Your compelling vision statement might be something like:
- To have a small group in every subdivision within a 10-mile radius of our church.
- To have 40% of our adults start a missional group on their street or cul-de-sac, or in the apartment building where they live.
- To have 110% of our weekend attendance connected in groups by making small groups an entryway to our church.
Get the Word Out
Once you can articulate your vision for the ministry in a succinct and compelling vision statement, you must saturate your church with that vision. Only when the vision becomes part of your church will small groups become a transformational force in the church and community.
Saturating the church with the small-group vision will demand viewing the church as a sponge. When a sponge is placed in water, every inch of that sponge, from its inner core to its most outward edge is saturated with water. Make it your goal to have every adult in the church inundated with the vision of the small-group ministry. There are at least six ways to make this happen:
Make Small Groups Core
Be certain that being in a small group is a core value of the church. When small groups are a core value of the church, the middle of the sponge is already soaked, and the vision will extend outward into all facets of church life.
Explain Groups to New Members
Present the small-group ministry vision at each new member's class, group, or event so that every new person in the church understands their importance and goals. Make sure the vision for small groups is given substantial time and passion during this event.
Have your senior or lead pastor continually cast vision for group life in weekend worship services. My pastor, Josh Howerton, encourages people to join a group and shares stories about group life at least twice a month. We have 90 percent of our adult attendees in a group, and I believe this is directly related to the time, attention, and passion the senior pastor gives to groups from the pulpit.
You can't be the only person who can articulate the vision. Instead, your coaches and leaders must know and be able to verbalize the vision statement whenever possible. As a team, you'll reach many more people than you could on your own. Plus, a personal invitation from someone already involved in small groups—who can clearly articulate the vision—goes a long way for new people who are considering joining a group.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
At every small-group leader gathering, repeat the vision statement of the ministry. It's easy to believe that once we've said it, our teams will remember. But over time, we forget the vision. Your team should be reminded of the vision statement at least every 30 days.
Verbalize the vision statement every chance you get in whatever setting you're in. Whether you're meeting with a leader one-on-one, talking with new church members, or explaining the ministry results to the staff team, share the vision. It's ideal if everyone you work with can easily state your vision simply because they've heard it so much.
If you'll go through the process to find God's vision is for your small-group ministry, create a vision statement that captures what you see in your mind's eye, recruit your team with it, and saturate the church in it, you'll see a new level of anticipation in your team. When the vision is clear, you can create a strategy that will move your team in the direction God is leading, and you'll experience God working in your ministry in ways you never dreamed possible.
Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool Develop a Group Strategy.
—Rick Howerton is a discipleship and small group specialist; copyright 2015 by Christianity Today.
- What vision has God give you for your small-group ministry?
- Can you articulate that vision in a succinct, compelling statement? Can your team members? If not, how might you craft a vision
- How can you get the word out about your vision and saturate your church with it?