We haven’t officially launched our small group ministry at Grace Hills yet. I’ve done plenty of reading, researching, and consulting the minds of some of the nation’s foremost small groups thinkers.
What I’ve discovered is that there is a broad variety of approaches to small group ministry, many tempered by the experiences of individual churches. I’m sure the same will be true of us. We will adapt our approach over time as we learn what works and what doesn’t. I do know, however, at least six key foundational principles that we will live by as we craft the DNA of our church’s community life…
We will grow larger (in our corporate worship) and smaller (through small groups) at the same time.
You may have heard this statement before. I first heard it from Pastor Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church. The reason I re-state it here is that it not only speaks to the different nature of our two primary gathering-types – it also suggests a very simple church structure. We aren’t going to try to make disciples using Sunday night discipleship ministries, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and Sunday School. We’re keeping it simple. We grow larger as we gather corporately and smaller as we gather in small communities.
We will balance the five purposes in group and individual life (worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, discipleship).
There is a strong trend today toward “missional communities.” I like it. I especially love some of the stories I’ve heard of missional communities (formerly known as small groups) making a huge impact on their surrounding cultures and communities. But if the great commission and the great commandment give us five prime objectives (or purposes) then I want our small groups to be arenas for growth in all five of those purposes.
We want our groups to grow in all five purposes, practicing them weekly. But we also want individuals to be able to gauge their own growth in each of the five areas as well, and to be able to measure that growth in the context of a small group community for the purpose of encouragement and accountability.
We will empower people to lead from their potential before they are trained experts.
We aren’t looking for Bible scholars who have earned seminary doctorates to lead small groups. Instead, we’re looking for people who are faithful, available, and teachable and who want to grow as leaders. In fact, we aren’t looking for small group leaders alone, although we do want to make room for those with the gift of teaching. We also want hosts who simply know how to serve brownies, press the play button on a DVD player, and love on people.
We will align the whole church family with sermon-based small groups.
We will grow deeper in the Word together as a church. We will raise our faith and our generosity together as a church. We will concentrate on particular disciplines, doctrines, and biblical topics together as a church family. How can we do this as we grow larger? By utilizing small groups, through which we’re growing smaller at the same time. We will stay on the same page, initiate campaigns, and stick with one another throughout the church family.
On a practical note, every sermon I preach has been whittled down from an over-abundance of material. As I’m preparing the message for Sunday, I will also be simultaneously preparing a discussion sheet and a short teaching video for distribution over the internet and by DVD to group hosts for the following week’s discussion.
We will grow by creating entry points for new groups, not by disrupting community life.
Yes, I believe in multiplication. But I also see that some leaders will naturally draw a larger number of people to themselves and I don’t want to penalize that kind of leadership by forcing cell division where it doesn’t naturally occur. So our approach will not be to divide existing groups at a certain growth point. Rather we will create a culture of multiplication within the church that constantly challenges people to be receptive to God’s calling to go and host new groups. And we will heavily utilize entry points such as sermon series’, holidays, campaigns, and our life matters classes to continually be birthing new groups.
We will cultivate disciples rather than creating passive spectators.
I want us to communicate, out of the gates, that small groups are more than a Bible study. They are a time for mutual sharpening and challenging. Groups will be challenged, trained, and assisted in moving outside the walls of a single home to love and serve a community. They will also be challenged to do ministry within the group, taking care of needs that often go unmet in the larger gathering.
I don’t know it all. In fact, small groups is probably my weakest area of leadership right now, so I’m going to lean heavily on some leaders whom God will provide us as well as some of the sharpest small groups thinkers I know such as Steve Gladen, Ron Wilbur, Brett Eastman, Mark Howell, Ben Reed, Larry Osborne, and Rick Howerton, all of whom have helped me with advice so far in planting Grace Hills.
I’m open to learning, but as I’ve studied various models and approaches, these six goals align well with the core values from which we are planning on launching a robust small group ministry. What did I miss?