Leaders long to control that which they lead. This seems to be the bent of most effective leaders. And in many instances – control works. Let’s face it, without someone being in control no one will get much accomplished.
But, is it possible that control is what’s keeping your small group ministry from growing? If we look at the early church we’ll find that, 1) Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come after His ascension. 2) The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. 3) Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit Peter preaches and 3,000 people become followers of Christ. Then we read these words, a paragraph describing the early church and its growth.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42 – 47)
Did you catch that last sentence? “The Lord added to their number DAILY those who were being saved.” (vs. 47) God was doing amazing things through these first century small groups. But they were out of control – for sure. Much of Paul’s writings are geared toward fixing what’s broke in the massive number of house churches that gathered around the Gospel and were doing their best to be the church. They were out of control yet the growth that was being experienced is almost beyond comprehension.
My friend Steve Gladen at Saddleback Church often reminds the small group pastors he’s speaking to that, “You can either have growth or control.” Why does he say this? Because, as has proven true at Saddleback (over 110% of adult weekend worshipers are in one of their small groups), when you give people the freedom to choose who is in their small group and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, numeric growth happens.
One of the facts that cannot be overlooked is that the fastest growing small group ministries are those that give up control. The fastest growing small group ministries are those that tell their weekend worshipers, “If you’ve got a few friends and you want to become a small group together, just let us know.” When this idea is promoted publicly all kinds of red flags go up. I’ve heard the following questions nearly shouted from small group pastors in training sessions led by Steve, “What if they’re not spiritually mature enough to lead a group?”, “What if they’re not even believers?”, “What if no one in the group really knows the Bible?”, and the list goes on and on.
Yet Saddleback has seen astounding numbers of people who are far from Christ come to Christ through their small group ministry. It seems that when people gather around the Word of God that God’s Word does its work.
Maybe we need to differentiate between being in control and being in charge. Great and effective small group pastors who oversee numerically flourishing small group ministries may need to decide whether, while they’re in charge, they’re willing to give up control.