Carolyn Taketa is the Small Groups Pastor and a member of the Executive Team at Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, California. Her responsibilities include leadership development, vision, strategies, and curriculum. She is a former attorney with a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley Law School, who has been leading small groups for over thirty years. She is a contributing author for Disciples’ Path from Lifeway Christian Resources, part of the editorial advisory team at Christianity Today’s smallgroups.com, and host of GroupTalk: Here to There monthly podcast for the global Small Group Network. Carolyn, her husband Donn, and their two daughters have been part of Calvary since 2001.
Well, 2021 hasn’t quite turned out the way that we thought it would. It’s not 2020, but it’s also not 2019. The world has changed. Our people have changed. Hybrid life seems here to stay. People are craving community. Keeping certain things virtual. And being pickier overall about how they spend their time. How do we move forward with small groups in 2021? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not by moving backward. That’s why I am offering the 2021 Small Group Reset: 5 Days to Reframe Your Ministry. This FREE On Demand Video Resource will help you navigate the changing culture within your church. Sign up at allenwhite.org/reset and start now. Fall 2021 looks to be the largest group launch opportunity you’ve ever seen. Let me guide you in getting prepared.
In a perfect world, the sole focus of your church beyond the weekend service would be groups. You do not live in that world. But, part of the reason you don’t have more groups is because you are not sending a clear message about groups…to your senior pastor.
Your Church Cares About What Your Pastor Cares About
Churches with a passion for evangelism are led by an evangelist. Churches with in-depth teaching are lead by a teacher. Churches with deep care and compassion are led by a pastor. Your pastor’s passions are expressed in the life of the church. The church cares about what your pastor cares about.
In most churches, the weekend service is the biggest thing that the church does in a week. It’s not necessarily the most important thing the church does, but it is the biggest. The weekend service has a lot of moving parts. For pastors who preach every week, it’s like having a term paper due on a weekly basis. There are production meetings and rehearsals. There are theme planning sessions and set design. And, don’t forget to fill the fog machine. The weekend service is a big deal.
But, why does everything have to be about the weekend? If your weekend service wasn’t strong, then the offering wouldn’t be strong, then you wouldn’t have a job, so don’t go there. This doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. Your pastor could care about groups, but you need to give your pastor reasons to care about them.
Your Pastor Cares About a Lot of Things
Pastors care about reaching the lost, caring for the flock, making disciples, connecting with the community, raising a budget, wrangling with board members, guiding staff, communicating the message, building buildings, raising up the next generation, and yes, gathering in groups. (If you don’t think so, then, remember who hired you.) Research shows that small groups offer effective solutions to everything your pastor cares about – Outreach, Evangelism, Attendance, Giving, Disciple-making, Leadership Development, Serving – you name it. The Senior Pastor’s Guide to Groups clearly and concisely builds the case for you.
For most pastors, there is a dominant theme that rises to the top: teaching, outreach, evangelism, compassion, service, leadership, care, or something similar. You heard this in point one. Groups will never replace this dominant theme in your pastor’s heart and mind, and that’s okay.
I’ve heard small group pastors/directors complain about not being able to get their senior pastor on board with groups. Here’s the deal – it’s your senior pastor’s boat. You don’t need to worry about getting your pastor on board. So, forget about nagging your way to success. There are ways to raise the value of groups in your church with your pastor’s full participation.
Align Groups with What Your Pastor Cares About
It’s time to get on board your pastor’s boat. What is the main focus of the next sermon series? What is your pastor’s passion? How can groups support where your pastor wants to go?
There is a small group curriculum for practically every sermon series a pastor could think of. If there’s not, then you can create one.
If your pastor is an evangelist, then propose a felt-needs series for members to invite their neighbors. They can share the gospel in a low pressure environment.
If your pastor is a teacher, then give your people more of what they want by creating curriculum based on your pastor’s teaching.
What is your pastor the most passionate about? Linking groups with where your pastor is headed is far more effective than trying to convince your pastor to follow your direction. A church-wide campaign aligned with your pastor’s passion will help you recruit more leaders and launch more groups than you’ve ever had. Your pastor is interested because the teaching goes further. The people are more interested, because you’re giving them more of what they already want.
Cast Vision Through Storytelling
Pastors need fresh stories for their sermons (and, their kids need a break). Start collecting stories from your groups. Ask them what God is doing in their groups. Ask them about challenges that group members have overcome through the support of the group. Ask them about their own reluctance to lead initially and how God has blessed them. These stories can come from surveys, interviews, or conversations. Ask your leaders and group members for stories.
Capture these stories either in print or on video or both. As you build your library of stories, find out where your pastor is headed with the next sermon or series. Some pastors plan a year in advance. Other pastors aren’t sure what they’re preaching this coming Sunday. Either way, your story library will be a huge asset to your pastor. And, since it’s a small group story, the story will cast vision for groups. Every pastor needs stories. Become your pastor’s go-to story source.
No one in your church should care more about small groups than you. That’s why you do what you do. You have to manage your passion for groups or else it can spill over into anger or resentment. Then, passion becomes self-defeating.
If it feels like groups are on the backburner, it’s your job to move groups to the front burner. Think of every possible angle where you can launch groups. Every event should launch groups. Every sermon series could start groups. Every holiday offers an excuse for groups – Mother’s Day for women’s groups, Father’s Day for men’s groups, Valentine’s Day for couples groups, Columbus Day for singles groups (They’re searching!).
God is using your pastor to lead your church. How can you support the direction your pastor is heading with groups? If you can’t figure out how to connect where your pastor is headed with groups, then give me a call. Here’s my cell: Nine-49-235-7428.
By Allen White
Disappointment results from unmet expectations. We expected something other than what we got, but we didn’t get it. For some, this disappointment comes on Christmas morning. For others, disappointment shows up in a relationship. For group members, disappointment might arrive in a much hyped small group or an eagerly awaited study. The key to fending off disappointment and the frustration it brings is to manage expectations. Here are some practical ways to direct the thinking of your group members: 1. Avoid the Blind Men and the Elephant Syndrome.
Everyone has an opinion on basically everything. The temperature of the room is too hot or too cold or somewhere in between. The music is too loud, too quiet or just right. If your opinion becomes the Goldilocks standard of “just right,” then everyone else’s thoughts become either Mamma Bear or Papa Bear. “Just right” for you is usually not “just right” for someone else.
In the fable of the blind men and the elephant, the men have very different opinions on what an elephant is. The one holding the tail believed an elephant is like a snake. The one touching the elephant’s leg thought it’s like a tree. The one with the tusk thought the elephant was like a plough. The one with the ear thought it was like a basket. And, so goes the fable.
When it comes to groups, everyone has different expectations of the group and of the studies they take on. Some want a group for connection. Others want a group for support. Some want deep Bible study. While others want action: outreach, ministry, parties or worship. Some long for that great group they were a part of in another church 10 years ago. While no group can be all things to all people, a conversation about expectations can go a long way in avoiding disappointment with the group. 2. What Do the Group Members Want?
The key to creating a group members actually want is to ask the group members what they want to see in a group. Don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. This is the beauty of small groups – there is flexibility in each group to uniquely serve its members.
What is your church communicating about small groups? The communication sets the expectation. Do your groups offer community built around a Bible study? Are they fellowship groups without a Bible study? Are they Bible study groups first, then everything else later? Are your groups sharing life or just sharing information?
When people are invited to form groups, the message from the church sets the tone. Avoid trigger words like “deeper.” The study or group will take you deeper relative to what? This creates a very unmanageable expectation, and you’ll soon find yourself deep in something else. 3. Never Assume.
A simple exercise can quickly make the group aware of its expectations. Have each group member write their top 5 expectations on a piece of paper and turn it in anonymously. These expectations can arrange from having a weekly worship time to healthy refreshments to serving the poor.
After the leader has collected everyone’s Top 5, compile the list for the next meeting. List each item, but don’t tally the number of votes for each just yet. Give the list to your group members at the next meeting. Have them circle the Top 3 values from the list, then collect their sheets.
From this new data, the leader should clearly see the group’s interests. At the next meeting, have a conversation about the results. Then, create your group’s core values around the Top 5 values indicated by all of the group members. The group’s core values should become part of your group agreement.
While lesser values may come into play, the group will focus on the Top 5 and then re-evaluate periodically. Decisions made for the group create resentment. Decisions made together create community.