Don’t hate me, but there are at least five things I used to believe about small group ministry … that I no longer believe are true. Actually, I no longer believe they are the best way to do what needs to be done.
Here are five things I used to believe … and what I’ve found to be better solutions:
1. Then: The best way to multiply small group leaders is to recruit and develop an apprentice (who would be ready to birth a new group in 18 to 24 meetings).
Now: Apprenticing is a very important practice and ought to be part of every leadership development plan. At the same time, the idea that it is the best way to multiply small group leaders is a beautiful sentiment that almost never works in the real world. The best way to identify, recruit and develop leaders is with a well-planned and well-executed church-wide campaign. The second best way is to use a connecting event that identifies leaders (like a small group connection).
2. Then: The best way to multiply small groups is birthing new groups out of healthy and growing groups (every 18 to 24 months).
Now: Growing and birthing new groups every 18 to 24 months only works on paper (with very few exceptions). What does work is a church-wide campaign or small group connecting event that emphasizes a short-term commitment (six weeks) on a topic that appeals to unconnected people.
3. Then: The best way to envision, equip and encourage small group leaders is with a monthly centralized meeting.
Now: The era of centralized meetings has left the building. While periodic centralized meetings can provide the much needed sense of a movement and an experience that can’t be duplicated when downloadable or streamed, the pace of life along with available technology to deliver training and encouragement anytime and anywhere cannot be ignored. The best solution is a combination of periodic centralized and frequent decentralized opportunities for envisioning, equipping and encouraging.
4. Then: The best way to protect the flock is to require small group leaders to be church members.
Now: “Protecting the flock” is most frequently a euphemism for never taking a risk. At the same time efforts were made to protect the flock, untold numbers of unconnected people were allowed to slip away when “one tough thing” was one tough thing too many. Since there are no problem-free solutions, the preferred solution is the one that connects the largest number of unconnected people, and at the same time works to mitigate the risks.
5. Then: The best way to help groups maintain their vitality was to train leaders to fill the open chair.
Now: Groups that have been meeting longer than about three months begin to form an almost impenetrable membrane and become increasing more difficult for anyone but the most brazen and extroverted to connect with. If you want to connect the largest number of unconnected people, it is far more effective to focus on launching new small groups.