By Allen White
Starting today, I am introducing a new monthly post called “5.5 Questions with…” where I will be interviewing small group experts from across the country. Today in the hot seat we have Rick Howerton and his 5.5 answers to my 5.5 questions.
Rick Howerton is the Small Groups and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Church Resources. He has authored many small group studies, is a highly sought after trainer and speaker, and is the author of Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual as well as A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic. He is also the co-author of Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making and Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Groups. But Rick’s deepest passion and his goal in life is to see, “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.”
Q1 Tell us about your first small group.
RH: The first small group that I led was actually a group of college students. I was a twenty-something year old seminary grad without a clue concerning what a small group was (Having come from a traditional Southern Baptist pastor’s home, I’d never even heard the term) or what a small group was suppose to do. I simply did a swan dive into relational community in the best way I knew how. The experience was very organic and, I would imagine, much more transformational for me that for those college students. They were amazingly patient and I was embarrassingly green.
Q2 You work for Lifeway who has been a stalwart for Sunday school for decades, centuries, millenia. Nowadays, Lifeway has become a major source for small group curriculum. How did that change come about?
RH: About fourteen years ago LifeWay made a strategic decision to connect with and partner with small group churches. I was hired at that time. A few years later LifeWay purchased Serendipity House, one of the premiere resource providers of small group Bible studies at the time. It was at this time that LifeWay began to build her reputation as a ministry aiding small group churches as they make disciples through small groups.
But, in the last two or so years, LifeWay has wisely realized that, in order to meet the many needs of small group churches, she needs to be more than just a Bible study provider. Because of the many helps LifeWay offers the small group world, our Bible studies are becoming more known. A quick list of offerings for small group pastors in 2015 alone is noted below. You may be shocked.
- 4 small group conferences (Small Group Beta Conferences) for untrained small group pastors (if the attendee can get to Nashville LifeWay takes care of all expenses)
- GROUPS200 featuring Steve Gladen, Bill Donahue, Bill Willits, and myself
- Groups Matter Conference bringing together leaders in the Sunday School world as well as the Small Group world
- On Point online small group point person conference
- Ongoing online training via the Ministry Grid
- Groups Ministry blog
- Ken Braddy blog
- Rick Howerton blog
- Smallgroups.com, customizable Bible studies
- Research as revealed in the books Transformational Groups and Transformational Discipleship
- Weekly Groups Matter podcast
- A plethora of small group Bible studies
Q3 “A plethora” wow! You created the Groups Matter initiative to launch 100,000 groups. How is that going? How can pastors and churches get involved?
RH: The goal of the Groups Matter initiative was to see 100,000 new groups started in two years. At present, there are 46,296 groups registered. To join the movement go to www.groupsmatter.com.
Q4 What emerging trends are you seeing in small group ministry?
RH: I’m seeing multiple trends in the groups ministry movement.
- Discipleship – For at least a couple of decades the groups world had as its mantra, “creating community.” The conversation has transitioned from focusing on creating community to, “making disciples.”
- Doing Sunday School and Small Groups Side by Side – Not so long ago few churches would’ve even considered doing both Sunday School and small groups. As of the last two years this has become a major movement. In fact, the largest audiences I have when leading regional training conferences are when I’m doing a day of training for churches presently doing Sunday School that want to add small groups.
- Sermon based Bible studies – It seems many pastors long to see their groups discuss the Sunday sermon. This has led to many churches creating their own questions for discussion based on the weekend sermon.
- Mid-size groups – While this isn’t a major movement right now, there is some discussion in some groups circles about mid-size groups meeting in homes. These would be any groups over 12. In fact, the size of the home determines the appropriate group size.
Q5 If you could turn the clock back in ministry and start over, what would you have done differently?
RH: Allen, I think the one thing I’d do differently, is spend more time with God daily, memorizing His Word, and studying biblical theology. I’ve tried to make up for lost time but I don’t know that I will ever be able to gain the knowledge I believe is necessary for a groups pastor in today’s post-Christian era.
Q5.5 Ok, the half question: Country or bluegrass?