Regardless of which small group model you choose for your church, there is no “right” way to do small groups and every church leader needs to evaluate which model fits best into their culture. Although there are many books, articles, and blog posts telling us how to “do groups,” there are some principles that are tried and true.
I have listed some keys that in my experience are important principles for developing an effective small group ministry. This is not an exhaustive list by any means and your list may differ from mine.
(1.) Prayer is vital.
Small groups are on the front lines of discipleship ministry. Pray for your leaders. We must depend of God’s wisdom and direction. God’s word says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3
(2.) Small Groups are about people.
Don’t forget that. We can easily get lost in the mechanics of ministry. Work hard on knowing your people personally and spiritually as you and build into their lives.
(3.) Have a vision.
Communicate it often. In their book, Building a Life Changing Small Group Ministry Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson tell us the importance of communicating vision: “Casting the community vision means seeing it, describing it, and saying it over and over.” (pp. 37)
(4.) Set short term goals but have a long term plan.
Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). Are you setting and meeting goals for the ministry? Be sure to celebrate milestones and re-evaluate your goals often
(5.) Think outside the box.
Don’t be paralyzed because this is how we’ve always done it. Take a risk. Do you need some encouragement? Read Hebrews Chapter 11. While structure is important, give freedom for the Holy Spirit to work in the ministry. Place your faith in God.
(6.) Leadership is everything.
One of my favorite John Maxwell quotes “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Are you pouring into your leaders? It is vital to support, coach, and encourage the leaders in your care. If your leaders aren’t being discipled, how can you expect discipleship to happen in the lives of the members of their groups?
(7.) The Sr. Pastor’s role is key.
Your Sr. Pastor must be the small group ministry’s #1 cheerleader. If he doesn’t participate in the ministry and encourage other staff/leaders to do the same, why should anyone else? People generally follow their leader. In his blog post, Your Senior Pastor as a Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Groups, Mark Howell says “the Sr. Pastor almost always has the most clout in the organization.”
(8.) There must be a point person.
The small group point person has an important job. This may be a staff member or a lay leader who is working behind the scenes to connect people to the ministry. If your church doesn’t have one, your ministry will flounder.
(9.) Never lose momentum.
Keep pressing ahead. Stay focused on your goals and work off of a ministry calendar. Know the pulse of your church and utilize events as on ramps to groups. Promote, talk about and celebrate groups often.
(10.) People are messy.
Life is messy. I’ve heard it said that ministry would be great if it weren’t for all the people. Be prepared to spend some nights on the phone or in the hospital by someone’s side. Be available to others. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” –Galatians 6:2
(11.) If it’s broke, fix it.
If the small group ministry in your church isn’t working, change it. It’s never too late to try something new. That doesn’t mean that you should toss out your entire group model, but perhaps it’s time to incorporate a new idea to reignite the passion in your ministry.
These aren’t the only keys to an effective small group ministry but they have worked for me.
What about you? What keys would you add to this list?