What are your church’s priorities? For many churches big priorities point to big events – weekend worship services, conferences, and outreach events. While all of these things have their place, do they deserve all of the attention they get? Imagine if small groups and disciple-making were front and center for once instead of lingering on the backburner somewhere.
Jesus commanded us to “go and make disciples.” Disciples aren’t made overnight. Discipleship is not a process or a program. Making disciples requires a person. After all, disciples make disciples. If disciples could be mass produced then services and seminars would be adequate to do the job. Clearly, they don’t.
What if everything in your church revolved around small groups instead? When our church in California reached a place where 125% of our weekly worship attendance was connected into groups, priorities shifted for our staff. As far as discipleship went, the tail was no longer wagging the dog.
How can small groups rise to the top? First, you don’t have to tear everything else down to raise the value to groups and disciple-making. This is not a matter of demolishing a church’s ministry to rebuild it. No one can afford to do that. This is more the scenario of re-engineering the airplane while it’s flying. It requires more nuance. By recognizing the opportunities and creating the right alliances, small groups could dominate your church in 2020.
Partner with Your Senior Pastor.
Why are the senior pastors so invested in the weekend service? First, pastors put their hearts and souls into creating a sermon. If you’ve preached, you know that time and energy it takes. One pastor said that it was like having a term paper due every week.
Another reason pastors are invested in worship services is because a large portion of the church attend. It’s a good feeling to speak to a packed house. Over the years, I’ve spoken to as few as 11 people and as many as 5,000 in a single day. The bigger, the better, right?
Lastly, preaching a sermon produces immediate results. Pastors tell jokes, and they get a laugh. They hit a point hard, and they get a response. Some will shout, “Amen!” Others might become very quiet. Then, in many churches at the end of the service there is a response at the altar. While approval is not the goal, a response is certainly reassuring.
While there are other reasons for pastors to devote themselves to worship services, think about these three things: (1) pouring their hearts and souls into teaching, (2) reaching many people, and (3) receiving a response. Small groups can do this too and even at a larger scale. By putting the pastors teaching on video, an audience larger than the weekend service will be reached. All of the hard work of sermon prep doesn’t end up in a file folder, it lives on in living rooms and breakrooms and board rooms around town.
Getting the response is up to the small group pastor. Collect stories of what God is doing in groups. Let the pastor know the impact the video teaching in groups is making. If senior pastors could reach larger audiences every week wouldn’t they be interested. Your small groups will connect your congregation, but will also include many people from the community who have never darkened the door of your church. In fact, according to Rick Warren, there is a trend of people coming to a small group first, then attending a weekend service with their groups. By partnering with senior pastors, their goals will be reach and so will yours.
Create a Next Step for Every Church Event.
Do marriage conferences improve marriages? They could. They also might accelerate conflict. Do sermons make disciples. I’ve already answered that here. Do men’s retreat make better men? They could, but as Randy Phillips, the former president of Promise Keepers says, “The failure of Promise Keepers was not offering a next step after the conferences.” Essentially Promise Keepers became promise breakers. While services and events are not the be-all end-all of life change, they can be a start. They can inspire commitment, but it’s not over and done. As Marcus Buckingham said, “The problem with people is they are just never done.”
Change is difficult. People fall into patterns of behavior that they’ve learned over the years. Marriages fall into patterns. Work relationships fall into patterns. We commonly refer to this as getting into a rut. It’s hard to get out. Change is difficult.
We know how to lose weight, but we don’t. We know how to get out of debt, but we’re still in debt. The list could go on, but we will stick with my problems for now. When I lose weight, it requires focused effort. I need accountability. I have to set a goal and make steps toward that goal. I could listen to someone talk about weight loss and be inspired. I could even watch exercise videos and still not lose a pound. Now before this gets silly, this is also true for every other change a person is trying to make.
Every change starts with a commitment. A conference, a retreat, or a worship service is a great place to make a commitment. But, commitments are forgotten without a next step and others to support you. If your church hosts a marriage conference, what’s the next step? Does the speaker have a book or curriculum? If not, what resources are available? Start groups during the conference. If your church has a men’s retreat, use the opportunity to form groups at the retreat before the guys come home. Have the study and the day and time of the first meeting in place before they resume their regular schedule. And, for the sermon, help your members take their weekend into their week by producing a sermon discussion guide or an alignment series.
Events can start something, but they cannot create lasting change. Small groups can complement events and give people what they need to achieve the growth they desire. Every event in your church should be a launching pad for small groups.
Make “Small Groups” the Answer to Every Problem.
What is your senior pastor’s biggest concern for your church?
More Leaders? Small Groups are a leadership development engine.
Better Attendance? People in groups are more committed than people who are not in groups.
More Serving? People in groups serve more than people who aren’t in groups.
Better Giving? People in groups, on average, give 4% more of their income than people not in groups.
More Growth? People in groups are more focused on growth than people not in groups.
Better Outreach? People in groups reach others for Christ more often than people not in groups.
Your pastor’s major concerns are all addressed in small groups. These thoughts are not merely anecdotal. Look at the research by Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger in Transformational Groups and Princeton professor Robert Wuthnow in Sharing the Journey. Research shows that people in groups are the most motivated and most active members of the church. (For a synopsis of this research: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups). If you want more of “all of the above,” you need to connect more people into groups.
So, Why Aren’t Senior Pastors the Most Excited About Groups?
- They may not know the value of groups. The senior pastor role today is more like a CEO. There’s a lot on your pastor’s plate. That’s why you were hired to take care of groups and discipleship. Yet unless you engage your senior pastor, discipleship will continue to linger in obscurity in your church. Help your pastor see the benefits of groups. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” Find every possible way to align groups with where your pastor is headed or what concerns your pastor the most.
- Most seminarians don’t learn about groups. I earned a Master of Divinity in Christian Education and did not hear one lecture on small groups. If pastors’ degrees are in pastoral ministry, biblical studies, counseling, or theology, they didn’t learn about small groups either. You have to educate your pastor about small groups and the key role they should play in the church. Point to outstanding models of churches with groups like North Point Ministries, Saddleback Church, North Coast Church, and many others. Start a staff small group. Tell the stories of what God is doing in your groups.
- Senior pastors may be resistant to groups because their small group pastors have become adversarial. One small group pastor complained to me, “I just can’t get my pastor on board with small groups.” I told him that he didn’t need to get his pastor on board. It was the pastor’s boat! The small group pastor needed to get on board with where the senior pastor was headed and include groups with it. The senior pastor has the responsibility to hear from God and give direction to the church. Follow that direction and add groups to the strategy.
No one should feel more strongly about small groups in your church than you. You should be the most passionate person when it comes to groups. Don’t allow your passion to spill over into anger. But, have small groups on the brain! The answer to every question your senior pastor or your team asks should be, “Small Groups.” As you partner with your senior pastor and others, you can dominate with groups in 2020.
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