Leading a small-group ministry throughout the summer months can be especially challenging, particularly in the United States. The summer season is often viewed as one long holiday, lasting 10 to 12 weeks. Like any holiday, we try to fill it with lasting memories. Our kids are out of school, so it’s the perfect time to plan lengthy vacations. Many industries intentionally slow down a little to promote employee morale. We enjoy outdoor activities as much as possible, and when the heat becomes too intense, blockbuster movies offer an enjoyable reprieve inside the cinema. With so many options, small-group ministry frequently finds itself in competition for time, attention, and energy, resulting in it dropping off the list of priorities.
What if we tried something new that caused a sense of excitement about group ministry? What if we constructed a vision for small groups that inspired people and made them want to plan their activities around their ministry, instead of putting ministry aside until fall? It’s entirely possible to increase enthusiasm and participation dramatically by focusing on the missional aspect of your small group. Here are six steps to get your small groups involved in missions this summer.
Step One: Change Your Paradigm
The Apostle Paul refers to paradigms in this well-known verse: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The Holy Spirit reveals, through Paul, the pathway to changing our lives and to knowing God’s will begins by altering our patterns of human thinking. As Christians, when we read “world” in Scripture, we have become conditioned to translate it as “sin” or “evil,” and that is certainly part of what Paul is saying. In a grander sense, however, this passage teaches us not to conform to the common mindset of our limited and flawed culture.
What are common mindsets we have that are flawed and limited regarding what we, as individuals, can do?
• “I could never do that.”
• “I don’t have enough. If I only had ______ then I could accomplish______.”
• “Great and amazing things happen to other people, but not me.”
Do these incomplete and broken ways of thinking ever creep into our minds as Christian leaders? You bet! The same limiting conversations may be imagined regarding ministry groups:
• “Our groups will never do that.”
• “We don’t have the money to do anything on that scale.”
• “Only big churches can do that. If only I had an assistant.”
When considering the larger implications of Romans 12:2, I become painfully aware of just how small and weak my current paradigms were. With this new awareness, here are some questions to ponder to help us all stretch and reframe our paradigms:
- What would you do to get your groups on mission if money were not an object?
- What do you dream of your groups doing through missions?
- What are you able to accomplish with the resources you currently have?
- How might not having enough resources force you to be creative?
- How might attempting the difficult, even impossible, grow your faith and your group members’ faith?
Reflecting on the above questions, what paradigms do you personally need to change as a small-group point person? How could the “renewing of your mind” influence the behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes of your group leaders? By conferring with another leader or team of leaders and writing down your thoughts, you will be stretched, and your conclusions will embolden you as God widens your thinking beyond human constraints.
Step Two: Embolden Your Groups
Once your personal paradigm shifts, you are in a better position to embolden your groups by crafting and casting a compelling vision. I love the God’s Word translation of Proverbs 29:18: “Without prophetic vision people run wild, but blessed are those who follow [God’s] teachings.” One of the reasons people tend to “run wild” during the summer and neglect small groups is because they have not been introduced to a powerful vision.
Define the Vision
Begin by praying about it. Ask Christ to open your mind and heart to his paradigms. Ask him what he wants to do through your group missions. Then consider the thoughts you wrote down previously. Based on your prayer and your thoughts to the earlier questions, what is God calling your church to accomplish through small groups being on mission?
Lead the Vision
Think about people in your congregation who are the most receptive to leadership. Consider those who are already early adopters of your church’s new undertakings. List those people and talk to them about the vision. You don’t need to have the answer to every detail for these soldiers because they are always on the front lines, asking, “What’s next Sergeant Major?” Ask them to try group missions and see what happens, explaining your interest in sharing their experiences with the rest of the church so others will want to get involved. If you plan a couple of months in advance, you’ll find the passionate stories of these “beta testers” will inspire and ignite many more people in the congregation to action.
Broadcast the Vision
Once you’ve clearly articulated the vision, blast it out into the life and culture of your church. Remember the tried and true “Marketing Rule of 7.” Typically, people don’t really subscribe to a message until they’ve heard, seen, or read it seven times. So broadcast this vision in every avenue possible. Leverage the use of live events, emails, postcards, and letters (yes, even snail mail). Talk about it on video, during church announcements, and on social media. Make posters and flyers, hanging them on the main entrance doors, in each bathroom stall, and near the auditorium entryway. Project it onto the video screen, print it in the bulletin, and plaster it on t-shirts. Use a slogan because they’re memorable. Pastor Andy Stanley once said, “Ideas need to be memorable, because memorable is portable.” Portable meaning viral, or rapidly circulated. People remember it, and are more likely to talk about it. The more they talk about it, the more viral it becomes. You need to have the tenacity to say, “No one in our church is going to miss this vision. No, not one!”
Sell the Vision
People must buy into the vision on both a spiritual and an emotional level. As a leader, you must answer the question “why?” in as many ways as possible. Why would groups want to do something missional this summer? Why is this vision necessary for the advancement of God’s Kingdom? Why should groups consider doing missional activities this summer rather than Bible studies or social gatherings? Why should the congregation follow you in this vision? When people buy into the “why,” they will be moved to action. If you share a vision and very few people get on board, it’s because your “why” wasn’t compelling enough. Try and try again, with new and more compelling “whys” until movement happens!
Step Three: Empower Your Groups
Empower your groups by giving them a clear runway. Just as airport workers routinely walk their runways to remove debris that might interrupt or prevent a plane’s takeoff, you can clear the runway for your groups to begin soaring on mission. Provide resources that make it easy for them to start pursuing the vision:
- Consider writing a curriculum resource for group missions—a step-by-step guide teaching groups how to discover their own mission, and how to act it out.
- Give each of your group leaders a calendar, and encourage them to work with their group to fill the calendar with their mission plans.
- Think about creative ways groups can fund their projects. Maybe they can ask for matching funds, or pursue projects that require labor, but not high expense.
Providing resources that help eliminate obstacles for groups doing missions is a small step that can yield amazing results.
Step Four: Release Your Groups
Simply put, don’t get in the way. Once your groups begin praying about and planning their missions ideas, don’t try to manage the process. Let God speak to each group. Allow them to pursue whatever God puts on their hearts. I was the senior pastor of a church where we emboldened, empowered, and released our groups. One of our groups organized a coaching event on interview skills, teaching people who were unemployed how to improve their resumes and interviewing skills, along with providing business attire and free haircuts. That group helped 10 people find jobs! Another group wanted to start a food pantry, and over the course of three years, they fed over 2,700 families! All my staff and I had to do was let these groups run. We didn’t micromanage, interrupt, or tell them “no.” We just let them live out what God had called them to accomplish.
Step Five: Celebrate Your Stories
Throughout the summer, your primary job as the small-group point person is to gather stories. Ask groups what they’re doing and how it’s going. Help them if they have questions, and focus lots of attention on learning their stories. Why? Stories are vital for group missions to influence and positively impact your church. If your focus is missions during the summer, every group will find something to do, and some groups will begin living out missions all the time.
Gather those stories and share them far and wide. Tell your entire church what happened over the course of the summer. Post pictures and videos all over the church, just as you did with the flyers to generate initial interest. These stories will encourage groups who didn’t get amazing results (it happens), as well as inspire groups who didn’t participate at all. Most of all, people will come to know Christ and their lives will be changed—and everyone who is a follower of Jesus wants to hear those stories.
Step Six: Lather, Rinse, Repeat
After a successful summer of group missions, leading future summer group missions will be like the instructions on a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. Begin by making group missions a part of your church culture. Do this again and again in your church, and see what the Lord accomplishes.
—Alan Danielson is a speaker and consultant who helps churches maximize their discipleship potential through excellent leadership and small groups. Alan's 28 years of ministry experience have included being a Lead Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, OK, serving on the executive team of Life.Church in Edmond, OK, and partnering with many of America's largest and fastest growing churches.