In the February 2020 Lobby Conference hosted by Small Group Network, Saddleback pastors Steve Gladen and Dave Alford tag teamed and tackled one of the most anticipated topics of the event: Exponential Growth in Small Group Ministry. Here, let us review three of the key takeaways from this momentous presentation by Steve and Dave.
Choosing Growth over Control
The Book of Acts is one of the best resources we have to understand the growth of the church during its formative years. A brief read through of this section of Scripture can quickly show us that the church preferred growth over control as they would preach to thousands and then baptize them shortly afterward. As witnessed throughout Acts, explosive growth was a good problem to have, for it established a foundation upon which its teachings could stand upon. Similarly, we too must be okay with the mess that new small groups may create. Instead of focusing primarily on if a new small group leader is maintaining sound theological discourse within their very first meeting, we are challenged to celebrate the fact that Jesus is being discussed at all and that members are coming together to form community. But doesn’t bad theology and misinformed teaching create more complication for the kingdom of God? Yes, however just as we see in the Bible, doctrine and teaching was provided shortly after Acts through the writings of the Epistles. Just as how Paul conducted “on-the-job” training via letters to the churches he was mentoring, we too can choose growth first and then later practice the approach of surgically addressing any theological concerns through a consistent roll-out of bite-size trainings.
A Culture of Groups
While we all wish our congregants would be fully devoted followers of Christ who are consistently serving, attending a small group, and in-the-know of the church calendar at all times, the reality is that many of our churchgoers only step foot onto church grounds for Sunday service (or online for virtual Sunday service). In other words, Sunday morning may in fact be the only shot we have to help promote small groups and/or explain the benefits of small groups. If our churches only mention small groups twice a year at the times when there are coordinated group launches, then this means that the typical church attendee only will hear about small groups 4% of the year (even less if they miss one or both of those two services!). If the church’s leadership agrees that small groups are one of the most important ministries within the community, then we become challenged to display the fact that small groups are indeed a part of our church’s DNA. To help execute this, some strategies can include: (1) head pastor buy-in (where the senior pastor becomes one of the most vocal proponents of small group ministry and even attends a group themselves); (2) Church calendar events that strategically funnel individuals into newly created groups (and/or church events that don’t interfere with the weekdays on which small groups typically meet); or (3) Consistent small group promotion from the pulpit (Not every message needs to be a small group sermon, but every message can contain a shout-out or a 30 second tie-in to small groups).
Lowering the Barriers
In a post-Covid world, small group ministries have found themselves challenged to embrace new methods in facilitating and nurturing community. While meeting in-person will always be the ideal method of meeting in groups, what we do know is that the concept of virtual groups is here to stay. During this time that we find ourselves in, what type of group is easy to duplicate, is able to meet both online and in-person, is easily sustainable, and also is easy to lead? As we arrive on the other side of the widespread disruption that Covid-19 had brought with it, sermon discussion groups may very well be the perfect type of “growth over control” group to launch within our church’s small group ministry. A sermon discussion guide is not only able to empower anyone to host a group and facilitate engaging conversation, but it also allows what Steve and Dave encouraged us all to practice during last year’s Lobby: rather than simply telling our groups what to do, we instead provide for our groups the destination we want them to reach while utilizing the values we want them to use in order to arrive there. Even though a model of sermon discussion groups chooses growth over control, it does so within a framework that provides its groups a set of guardrails within which to operate. In other words, groups are not grown without oversight, but instead are grown within a model that becomes quite appealing to a post-Covid world where both in-person and online groups are meeting on a regular basis.
While Dave and Steve’s presentation alone was well-worth the cost of the event, the Lobby Conference was packed with an immense amount of information that was applicable and highly relevant for any church’s small group ministry. This year, due to Covid-19, Small Group Network’s 2021 Lobby is going digital, and it will be opened up to even more attendees and also offered at a fraction of the cost it usually takes to attend. In addition to receiving wisdom from some of the biggest names in small group ministry, attendees will be able to choose from over 40 breakout sessions to attend that are being offered by additional voices within small group ministry (including yours truly). To help kick off 2021, this conference will be one of the best events to attend as a small group point person, and I hope that you’ll consider signing up and joining us on February 23-24!