The Right Way to Do Small Groups

The Right Way to Do Small Groups

What I've learned from years of small group consulting
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  • Is my senior pastor willing to give the necessary time and attention to helping me answer these questions?

There are no right answers to these questions, and you're the only person who can answer them.

You may think it's strange that a consultant would offer questions that he can't answer. But I've learned that the best service I provide ministry clients is not the answers I give, but the questions I pose.

Give plenty of time and attention to answering these questions. Dedicate some serious time to thoroughly answering them in the near future. If you don't answer these questions and understand the answers, your small-group ministry will flounder. You'll experiment with different strategies and models, but you'll have little success.

When Small Groups Aren't Working

And that's why some small-group models seem to work—and others don't. Too often, small-group ministry leaders looking for a shortcut to successful small groups, and they simply copy and paste another church's model for ministry. The problem is that they don't take into account their own church's unique fundamentals.

I talk to these ministry leaders all the time. They're frustrated because small-group ministry just doesn't seem to be working at their church. They tell me about all the great models and strategies they've tried from other churches, but nothing has worked. They assume, like many church leaders, that the problem is rooted in a model, system, or strategy. But the problem is actually a fundamental problem. The reason groups aren't working in their church is because their approach to small groups doesn't match the heartbeat of the church's senior decision-makers.

For example, Community Christian Church, a multi-site church in and around Chicago, has a great system for apprenticing leaders and creating groups that multiply. I had an opportunity to ask COMMUNITY's Lead Pastor, Dave Ferguson, why this model works so well at their church and yet doesn't seem to work in many other churches. His answer: "Because this church started as a small group in a dorm room with me and an apprentice leader." His answer had nothing do to with the model. Instead, it had everything to do with their church's small-group fundamentals. Their model works because it reflects the core nature of the church.

During the years I led the small-group ministries at, I learned that two things were very important to my senior pastor, Craig Groeschel: friendships and further exploration of the weekend message. At the time, the church was running over 20,000 in weekly attendance. Craig was the founding pastor of the church, so the church shared his heartbeat. As a result, we built our small-group ministry at to revolve around getting as many people as possible into small groups where they could discover new spiritual friendships and use discussion materials that helped them explore and apply the weekend's teaching. Why? Because those things aligned with our church and our pastor in a fundamental way.

When you look at successful small-group ministries across the country, you'll find that each of them is unique. They have similarities, but each church's model has been custom built to fit their church's fundamentals. One of the greatest temptations of small-group ministry leaders is simply to take another church's model for small-group ministry and insert it into their own context. It's imperative to resist this temptation and instead spend time listening to your church's leadership team and discovering your fundamentals for small groups.

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