Despite the mistakes I have made, our church’s small group ministry has grown steadily over the past five years. In 2013, we began with three groups with roughly 30 people attending. Now, we have eleven groups and over 100 people involved. Our goal for 2019 is to plant six new groups.
Although it’s been bumpy, God is gracious. Here are three common mistakes in small group ministry and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Focusing too much on picking the right model
Small groups, community groups, cell groups, open groups, closed groups, sermon-based discussion groups, growth groups, neighborhood groups, affinity-based groups, host groups, organic groups…The amount of small group models seems endless. With so many models to pick from, pastors may feel anxiety trying to find the perfect one.
Here’s the truth: model doesn’t matter! Each model listed above works. How?
Consider diets. Some people eat only vegetables. Others eat lots of fat and meat. How can such diverse diets both work? Because the underlying principles are the same! Both diets cut out loads of carbs and processed food.
The same is true with small group models. Although the details may differ, almost every model operates by the same underlying principle: it’s all about the leader.
The Fix: Pour your attention into developing leaders
Instead of stressing about what model you’ll choose for your church, devote most of your time to developing leaders. A good leader will make whatever model you choose thrive. On the other hand, no matter how good your model is, it cannot compensate for an ineffective leader. Healthy leaders lead healthy groups.
Mistake #2: Providing cookie-cutter training
Even if you are starting your small groups ministry from scratch this year, you will probably have leaders who’ve been around the church for a while. Veteran leaders usually don’t need “the basics” of how to lead a Bible-based discussion or how to handle a prayer time. Basic training frustrates veterans. On the other hand, some of your leaders may be newer Christians. If your training is too advanced, they won’t have a solid foundation. A one-size-fits-all training model won’t cut it. Different leaders have different needs.
The fix: Create leadership courses
One way to train leaders with various needs is to create leadership courses. You could label them as simply as Small Group Leadership 101, 201, and 301. Here’s an example of my church’s Small Group 101 Leadership Course. The 201 level can dive deeper into each of the major aspects of a group leader’s ministry, such as providing care in groups. The 301 level could merely be an opportunity for veteran leaders to spend time together and learn from one another.
Mistake #3: Splitting groups
One of the best ways for a small group ministry to grow is through multiplication: new groups being birthed from within the ministry. Many small group models encourage groups to get bigger and bigger and then divide in half. I have found that splitting rarely works. People grow attached to each other and usually don’t want to leave the group. Furthermore, splitting groups doesn’t really provide any openings for new people to join the group.
The fix: Raise up Group Planters
Instead of splitting a group, ask each group to raise up a Group Planter. A Group Planter can be an individual, or couple, who leaves his or her current small group to start a new group. The advantages are numerous. First, most of the relationships within the original group remain intact. Second, the new planted group opens up many opportunities for new people to get connected. You’re literally building a new group for new group people.
What mistakes have you seen in small group ministry?
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