But what if we’re wrong? What if small groups aren’t right for a lot of churches?
I’ve struggled for decades (wow… decades! I didn’t realize that until I wrote it…) trying to do healthy small group ministry in my church, with no long-term success.
I went to all the seminars, read the books, tried the best curriculum and trained leaders. You name it, we did it. But the same scenario kept repeating. A new small group would start strong, settle into a good pattern, then fade into obscurity in a matter of months. The strongest of them might last a year or so before fading away.
So in the last few years, I gave up.
That’s right, my church and I just quit trying to do small group ministry. And it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
No more wasted energy, no more failed attempts and no more frustration trying to do something that wasn’t right for our church, to begin with.
But how can a church be healthy without a dynamic small group ministry? After all, everyone says healthy small groups are one of the non-negotiable essentials for a great church.
This is one area of ministry where the rules for a Small Church are different than the rules for a big church. And it’s an example of why we need ministries like New Small Church to help us discover where big and small diverge.
Here are 4 signs your church may not need a small group ministry:
1. Your Small Church Is a Small Group
If you’re a Small Church pastor, you’re not failing at doing small groups. You’re better at small groups than the people writing books about it!
The best small groups experts have maybe 50-60% of their Sunday attenders coming to a small group. But 100% of the people in your church are in a small group because your church is a small group.
Big churches need small groups because they’re… well, they’re BIG. But Small Churches don’t need small groups because they’re already… what’s the word…? small.
Small groups matter because the most personal, intimate aspects of our spiritual lives can’t thrive if we’re only involved in large meetings.
But Small Churches have that already. Or we can. We just need to let go of what we’re not, stop thinking like a big church, promote the intimacy of the Small Church experience and be who we are. Relax and enjoy the small.
2. If It Feels Divisive, It Is Divisive
When I first arrived at my current church, the small, discouraged, aging congregation was splintered into factions. Having five pastors in one decade will do that.
That divisiveness was everywhere, including the Sunday seating arrangements. Every chair they owned (about 150) was set up in four sections with massive gaps between them. The most prominent feature was a huge center aisle. When 35 people came to worship on Sunday, the church literally divided them from each other.
On my second Sunday, I set up only half the usual number of chairs. Then I rearranged the seating into three sections, dominated by a glorious center section where I encouraged everyone to gather. That Sunday started a healing process in the church.
Why? They no longer felt separated because they no longer were separated.
Sometimes when we push people into home groups in a Small Church, we run the risk of doing what my church’s old seating arrangement did. Separating people who need to be gathered together.
3. You’re Only Doing It Because You’re “Supposed To”
Ask yourself this question. If an expert hadn’t told you your church needs a small group ministry, would you have seen the need for yourself?
Yes? Then proceed with small group ministry.
No? Then your church probably doesn’t need one.
The books and seminars that told you small groups are an essential component of a healthy church weren’t wrong. Churches do need small groups. But, like we saw already, that instruction was probably given from a big church perspective and it didn’t take into account that you’re already doing small just fine.
4. There’s No Natural Leadership
Is there someone in your church who has a heart, passion, drive, gifts and leadership to run a great small group ministry?
If so, turn them loose. If not, you’re fighting a losing battle by starting a small group ministry, then hoping and praying for someone to step in and lead it. Or, worse, leading it yourself. Remember, you’re already leading a small group – your Small Church.
Great leaders don’t fit into ministries. Ministries get built around great leaders. If you have someone with all the prerequisites to lead one group, but they’re not gifted to oversee a bunch of groups, don’t call it a small group ministry. Just call it what it is. A Bible Study, Seniors Fellowship, Prayer Group, etc.
In my church, we have all of those, and then some. But there’s not a Home Group Ministry that oversees them all.
And here’s a final, hard-won word of advice – put an expiration date on the group. It doesn’t have to stop then. It can always be renewed. But that way, if it does fizzle out, it didn’t fail, it finished.
Using Ministry Teams as an Alternative
In big churches, small groups are needed so people can experience times of prayer, worship and fellowship they can’t get on Sunday. But people already get that on Sundays in a Small Church. It’s one of the reasons they attend a Small Church to begin with, and why a small group ministry may not be needed.
So let’s put our energy into something the congregation can’t get on Sundays. Here’s an idea.
No, not committees. Actual working teams. (If anyone starts a committee based on this post I’ll hunt them down and … give them the hug they obviously never had as a child).
Start a food pantry, a youth outreach, a prison visitation or anything else that meets these three criteria:
- A Need – no sense doing it if nobody needs it.
- A Leader – someone with the passion and gift mix to head things up. 99% of the time, they’re the one who raised the idea to begin with.
- A Team – don’t send a leader out alone. That’s not leadership, that’s burnout waiting to happen.
If you have those, you’ll have Ministry Teams that will bless others, bless the participants and bless your church. They might even put a smile on God’s face, too.
So what do you think? Have you been frustrated trying to do small group ministry in your Small Church? Do you know of any other signs a church might not need a small group ministry? Has anything worked for small groups in your Small Church?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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