Why Many Small Group Ministries Aren’t Accomplishing Her Pre-Determined Goals

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As I continue to consult small group ministries I realize more and more than many of them aren’t accomplishing their pre-determined goals.  Why?  I believe there are four reasons that need to be seriously considered if a group ministry is going to accomplish what she means to accomplish.

Check out the diagram above as you consider each of the following points.

  1. What you call the person spearheading a small group must coincide with the responsibilities of that person. There’s much conversation concerning what to call those incredible people who spearhead a small group. There are four terms that are most prominent. They are host, shepherd, leader, and discipler. Each of these terms describes someone who is taking group members on a journey, but all of these terms don’t describe the same journey. Here’s the deal… What you call the person spearheading a small group should coincide with the responsibilities of that person. If all the person is being asked to do is open their home, have some snacks, plug in and start a DVD, and ask a few questions for discussion, then their title could easily be HOST. If they’re expected to pastor a small congregation, that is, make sure every group member’s material and emotional needs are met, be there for them when difficult life issues arise, be their caregiver or lead the group to be their caregiver when they are sick or hospitalized, etc… as well as make sure there’s meaningful Bible study taking place then the title SHEPHERD might be best. If the person is to lead, that is do all the things just mentioned as well as assign tasks for willing group members to do such as oversee childcare, take care of snacks, plan missional opportunities, etc… then LEADER would be appropriate as the role of a leader is to organize people around a pre-determined vision making sure everyone does their part to see the vision become a reality. And finally, if you’re asking the person leading a group in your church to do all of the above mentioned as well as holding people accountable for daily bible reading, Scripture memorization, being a witness for Christ, etc… and the group members are being mentored by the person leading the group, then it would be wise to call those people DISCIPLERS.

When the wrong term is used, the person spearheading the group may not be willing to lead a group and, even if they are, they will quickly become frustrated because, what they thought they were to be doing isn’t actually what they’re responsible for doing.

  1. The expectations of the person spearheading the group isn’t made known before the person agrees to lead the group. As you can see when you look at the diagram, there is much more expected of the group’s leader if they are DISCIPLING group members as opposed to when they are simply HOSTING a group. When the true expectations are more than were outlined to them or if they dreamed of doing something more substantial with the group members they’re responsible for, the person spearheading the group will quickly become frustrated and may bail or become unhappy with group leadership.
  1. The amount of training necessary to spearhead the small group doesn’t coincide with role they’ve been given. To illustrate… When the person spearheading a group is called HOST and the responsibilities of the host are as outlined in the point above, very little up-front training is necessary. But, if the person spearheading the group is going to be a disciple maker it’s best for them to have been discipled over a substantial period of time, enough time to become somewhat spiritually mature. Seldom can a spiritual babe disciple someone as they don’t have the knowledge or skills to do so.
  1. The numeric goals you have for your groups ministry must coincide with what your expectations are of group members. If you look at the diagram, you’ll see that on one end of the spectrum the goal is to have high percentages of church attenders in groups. This is signified by  “% in a Group”. On the other end of the spectrum is to make mature disciples who make disciples signified by “Discipleship”. The arrows surrounding this part of the diagram signify that, if you want to make mature disciples you have high expectations of group members which means you’ll get fewer people to commit to being in a group. On the other end of the spectrum, if you want very high percentages of weekend worshipers to be in a group, you need to make the expectations of group members much lower because, many people will stay away from group life if the expectations are too high for them.
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4 comments

  1. Is it not possible for small groups within the same church to have various purposes and objectives or does there have to be a singular strategic purpose and objective for all small groups within a particular church?

  2. Steve, it definitely is possible to do multiple models in the context of one church. This demands a lot of time and energy of the groups pastor as each model has a different set of expectations, the training is different for those spearheading a group, each group type is evaluated differently, etc…

  3. Hi Rick, I just wanted to ask advice. My husband co-teaches in Sunday School. And the class (12 out of the 15 total) are always late. The class starts at 9:15, but most arrive after 9:30. We were in this class for several years and it was always this way. Then we went to help in another class for 3 years and they were always on time. Now we are back and they are still late. My husband really needs the whole time and the ones that get there on time are punished, but not starting as the teachers don’t want to start before most of the class arrives. Did I mention that this is a class of adults. Most are deacons and leaders in the church. I would appreciate any advice. Thank you, Evelyn

  4. Evelyn, I would suggest you go ahead and start the class with those who are on time. You said it well, those who are on time are being punished for doing what’s right which is never the right thing to do. When doing so, don’t say anything that would demean either of the groups of people. For instance, your husband shouldn’t say something like, “Even though everyone isn’t here yet, we’re going to go ahead and start.” Just start on time. You might even want to consider changing up the flow of things and do prayer time first instead of at the end. They may be more apt to start showing up on time if they’re interrupting prayer. Just a few thoughts/opinions. Anyone else got some good ideas?

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