3 Steps You Can Take TODAY to Build a Healthier Groups Ministry

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We just had the Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback. There were thousands of pastors that came to learn and grow. I was talking with one whose question was really good.
How can we possibly make sure groups don’t go crazy? I mean, we have so many scattered all over the place. We don’t want them going off the rails theologically or practically. Is that possible?
The answer to that is so easy. Yet the answer is also the most difficult answer in groups.
You can’t.
However, you can build the infrastructure in such a way that gives support, care, and guardrails to leaders and groups that helps direct them towards the end in mind. But at the end of the day, you can never guarantee perfection. Here’s a Saddleback-ism you can take to the bank:
You can structure for control, or you can structure for growth. But you can’t structure for both at the same time.
If you want control, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of growth.
If you want growth, you can have it. But it comes at the expense of control.
So at the end of the day, there’s no way to guarantee a group won’t go crazy. We’re dealing with humans after all, not robots. There’s no way you can see every email, hear every phone call, and be a part of every discussion that’s happening in your groups. It’s just not possible. And the more you squeeze, the more you’ll (likely) see people want to rebel against that. Want to know how I know that?
Because that’s what I’d do. ?
While you can’t guarantee it, here are some steps you can take to lead and guide groups towards health.
  1. Know your end in mind. For us at Saddleback, that’s a healthy group that balances the 5 purposes (fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism, and worship) in the life of the group and each individual. Define that with crystal clarity. And know that groups don’t naturally drift that direction, so…
  2. Engage leaders’ minds. We call this the cognitive guardrail. This includes training, your curriculum pathway, and other tools you might need. We can’t obey what we don’t know, so give leaders truth(s) they can wrap their mind around. But knowing is only half the battle (thank you GI Joe), so…
  3. Engage their hearts. We call this the infrastructure guardrail. Just because I know something doesn’t mean I obey it. Walking alongside group leaders is crucial, so we link them up with Community Leaders: volunteer leaders that shepherd groups. We’ve found that in nearly every group, there is a “theological police.” Someone is bothered as the truth of Scripture doesn’t match the truth that’s being discussed. And theological police are good at sounding the sirens. We in leadership just want to make sure we’re there to hear the sirens and lovingly, graciously act.
  4. Repeat. Every system drifts towards what’s comfortable, not what’s best. The role of leadership then becomes helping groups take intentional steps towards health.
Which of these do you need to do the most work on?
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