1. Be the loudest voice.
Don't waste money hiring a small-group pastor or budgeting for your small-group ministry if you aren't committed to being the most vocal proponent of the ministry. Rick Warren sets a fantastic example for us all when he says, "I'm the small-group pastor of Saddleback Church." That philosophy has become my own, and I can't recommend it strongly enough.
Champion small-group announcements from the stage and on video. Mention groups in every sermon. Tell a story about your own group or say something simple like, "Maybe you need to talk about today's message in your small group." The point is this: talk about groups as often as possible so they will become a part of your church's DNA.
2. Share the blame.
Senior pastors who are not the Senior Pastor of Small Groups in their churches can find themselves quickly frustrated with the results of their small-group ministries. They'll sometimes blame the staff members who are in charge of groups by saying things like, "I made a bad hire." They might blame the members of the church saying, "My people just aren't interested in groups." They occasionally even blame the culture at large by saying, "Small groups just aren't relevant anymore." Before leveling blame for small-group ministry failure, ask yourself how you may have contributed to the failure.
Resist the urge to blame staff. I'm currently a senior pastor, but I've been a small-group pastor. I've also consulted with churches all across America regarding small groups. In all of this I've learned that no small-group pastor, no matter how gifted, will be successful without the senior pastor's partnership.
Resist the urge to blame the church. I've seen clear evidence that the people in a church will value what their senior pastor values. When church members see the senior pastor's strong commitment to groups, their own commitment grows as well.
Resist the urge to blame the culture. People in our culture are desperate to belong. They are naturally "grouping" with people who love them, accept them, challenge them, and care for them all the time. TV shows like "Friends" and "Big Bang Theory" demonstrate this readily. With coffee shops on every corner, it's hard to honestly say that small groups are not culturally relevant.
When groups aren't working like you think they should, ask how you can take some of the blame and be part of the solution. This humble approach will earn the respect of your followers. It will also help you focus more on their successes than their failures.
3. Become passionate about small groups.
You'll most effectively promote groups when you're in one and when you are educated about them. So be in a small group and be committed to it. Then read some books on the subject. A few suggestions are Creating Communityby Andy Stanley and Bill Willits, The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Simple Small Groups by Bill Search, and Small Groups Big Impact by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable.
There are many other ways to support small-group ministry as well. Consider writing a few small-group discussion questions and tacking them on at the end of your sermon notes in the bulletin. Champion small-group real estate by making sure small groups have great representation in the lobby, on your website, and in your bulletin. Refuse to focus on groups only when something is out of place or broken; instead, stay up to date with progress. Demonstrate your care for the ministry by being interested in it all the time.
I recognize you are stretched thin, and that the demands on your time are huge. I also realize that expecting small-group ministry success without showing your full support and commitment is an exercise in futility. Your time is valuable, so don't waste it by only partially being committed to small groups.
—Alan Danielson is the Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Copyright 2012 by Christianity Today.