By Mark Howell, Pastor & Small Group Expert
BEST PRACTICES: "A procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption." - Webster
You can learn a lot by studying the best practices of thriving small group ministries. You can improve your results by adopting the best practices of thriving small group ministries. Occasionally, you can improve your results by adapting the best practices of thriving small group ministries to fit your context. I say occasionally because adapting most commonly strips away the design elements that produce the results you hope to attain.
You shouldn't be surprised to learn this. It is just the way it is. There is a reason the two most thriving small group ministries are Saddleback and North Point. Rick Warren and Andy Stanley figured out a long time ago that people do what the most influential person in the organization promotes. Another important element of this best practice? The average attenders of Saddleback and North Point couldn't pick Steve Gladen and Bill Willits out of a line-up because they lead their small group ministries from behind the scenes. Small group leaders and coaches know them. But the public face of the small group ministry is the senior pastor.
Think about it: Is your senior pastor the champion? Or does someone else play that role?
Do you have an annual small group push? Maybe at the end of September? Or in early January? You need to know that thriving small group ministries are year-round endeavors. They are promoted 52 weeks a year. There may be times of greater emphasis, but highlighting group engagement is never out of season. Thriving small group ministries are always looking ahead to the next opportunity to connect to a group. They are also highlighted year-round in the language of message illustrations and stories of life-change. Churches with thriving small group ministries rarely miss the opportunity to reference the prominent role of small groups in their strategy. Don't believe me? Try listening for the drumbeat in a North Point or Saddleback weekend service.
Think about it: Does your church promote small groups year-round? Or is there a groups campaign every year?
They may have more on their menu than small groups, but there is no mystery or confusion about what is most important. If you have any doubt, a quick look at the websites of churches with thriving small group ministries will confirm this. A look at their weekend service program and verbiage from the stage will provide conclusive evidence. Emphasizing the importance and priority of small groups forces deemphasis of anything and everything else (that might cause confusion about first steps or next steps. "Should I do this? Or this?" is an uncommon question in churches with thriving small group ministries.
Think about it: How clear is the importance and priority of small groups in your church?
Want to build a thriving small group ministry? Take a look at your church's general budget. Can you tell from the budget that small group ministry is important? The budgets of churches with thriving small group ministries are powerful indicators. And it is very important to note that their small group ministry budget explains their results (as opposed to their results being rewarded with budget increases).
Think about it: Does your staffing structure (which is a function of the budget) indicate that small group ministry is important? Or does your staffing structure indicate something else is really more important? Does your website indicate small group ministry is important? Is it easy to find out about the next connecting opportunity or learn about small group involvement? Does your on-campus promotion (signage, kiosk, welcome center, first step experience, etc.) indicate small group ministry is important? Is it clear to unconnected attenders? Does your facility reservation and availability indicate small group ministry is important?
Getting connected and doing life together may be the beginning, but it is not the destination. Making better disciples, life-change, becoming like Jesus, doing what Jesus would do, is the end in mind. Thriving small group ministries deliver a robust experience. Far beyond closing the back door, small groups are designed to help group members become steadily more like Jesus, experiencing (and practicing) the one-anothers as a way of life.
Think about it: Do examples of groups that "get it" stand out? Are they commonplace (happening all the time)? Or extraordinary (the rare, out-of-the-ordinary group)?
Reprinted with permission by MarkHowellLive.com Mark is the Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. He's also the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services that help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries.