As a young man I ran several seasons on my high school track team. I won a few races and some ribbons, but I realized early on the Olympics were not in my future. Nevertheless, the experience had a very positive lasting impact on me. The daily training in preparation for the track season was absolutely necessary before I finally put my feet in the starting blocks for my first race.
In a similar way, establishing a small group ministry in a church of any size requires some serious preparation.
Here are some of the necessary ways you can put your feet in the starting blocks to begin the race toward creating a viable small group ministry.
Define the End
Clearly articulate exactly what you are trying to accomplish. Before you commit the time, talents, and resources of your church to do this ministry, you must agree about why it is necessary. This is a task not only for small group advocates, but also a message that should be embraced by your church’s senior leadership and understood by your potential critics.
The end is not just to have small group ministry. The end should be to achieve some degree of maturity in Christ for every member of your church. The place of small groups in the church is to serve as a strong viable means toward the end. Groups are only a tool, but they are a very good tool.
Determine the Leader
It is very important the right person be recruited to lead this new ministry. This person will be the ministry’s spokesperson, its public face before the church. It is important that this person is respectable and capable of this important task.
Choose this person carefully. Call him or her to this good work and clearly explain, in private, why he or she has been chosen and what accomplishing this mission will mean for the good of the church.
When the person accepts, then appropriately authorize him or her. If possible, do it publicly in the presence of the church so that everyone knows they are allowed to follow this person’s leadership.
Then connect this leader with the other leaders in the church to ensure that all agree to be on the same team. Finally, connect this leader with resources and encourage him or her to read the best material available to improve knowledge and maximize potential.
Determine the Culture
How will small groups fit into the life of the church? Is there already a strong Sunday school? Or is the building out of space, so that adult discipleship and shepherding must be decentralized? Are there any unique situations that need to be considered? Is there a history of small groups at the church that might hinder this new effort? (And, if so, how should the new leader proceed and how much authority will he or she have to change things?) What is real?
These questions will impact not only the new leader but the ministry team that will be recruited to accomplish this new work. Properly engaging the existing church culture is important for the success of a small group ministry.
Build a Small Group of Ministry Leaders
In addition to the leader, at least six roles will need to be filled. If a half-dozen people with the talents to fill these roles can be assembled and empowered to serve as a team, it will help ensure that you accomplish your goal, that is, the end.
The team needs leaders to serve in these areas:
Administration/records—Someone who relishes details and is fulfilled by organizing chaos.
Supervision/management of leaders—Someone to coach and lead the new leaders of the small groups. This person should have the gift of management. As the number of groups grows beyond 10 or so, a new system will be needed to coach coaches, but not until then.
Events coordination and operations—Someone who likes organizing and running events, including training events, campaigns to recruit new attendees, and fellowships for leaders. This person loves handling the details of making the event work for the good of all.
Marketing/communication—Someone who can write and work to ensure that the church knows what is going on at just the right times.
Connections/placement—Someone with a warm personal touch who is patient enough to make multiple connections with people in order to help them find the right place to belong.
Resources/training—Someone who will take the responsibility to know the resources available and how to deliver them so that all the leaders in the small groups ministry are fully equipped to do their good work.
Start Carefully and Well
Don’t start until you are ready, but do start at a time that works with your church calendar. Missteps at the beginning will hurt the credibility of the small groups and their potential success.
Fall and after the New Year are usually good times to start groups. An all-church spiritual campaign before Easter or in September might be extremely good timing for expanding groups. Summer is a great time to strengthen the fellowship of the groups, but isn’t usually the best time to start new, in-depth Bible studies. When possible, follow up an appropriate sermon series by launching a new group during the flow of the year.
Collect stories of life change from experiences that happen in the first small groups you start and then continue to gather stories. After that, use these stories shamelessly to encourage the church about what God is doing in your midst.
Finally, never forget the end: “Maturity in Christ is for every member!” That’s the goal for every step of your race.
Kent Odor serves as senior associate pastor with Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.