I sometimes talk to pastors who are frustrated because small group ministry just isn’t working at their church. They tell me about all the great models and strategies that they’ve adapted from other churches, but feel like nothing seems to work. The mistake that many pastors make is assuming that their problem is rooted in a model, system, or strategy. I’m convinced that the problem is actually a DNA problem: the reason groups aren’t working in their church is that their approach to small groups doesn’t match the DNA of the church’s senior leader.
Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois has a great system for apprenticing leaders and creating groups that multiply. I had an opportunity a couple of years ago to ask CCC’s Senior Pastor, Dave Ferguson why this model worked so well at their church while other churches often flounder with the same approach. He said, “Because this church started as a small group in a dorm room with me and an apprentice leader.” His answer had nothing do to with the model. Instead, it had everything to do with their church’s DNA. Their model works because it reflects the nature of their church, and a church always reflects the nature of their senior leader (especially if the senior leader is the founding pastor).
In my four years at LifeChurch.tv I learned that two things in small groups were important to my Senior Pastor, Craig Groeschel: friendships and further exploration of the weekend message. At the time the church was running over 20,000 in weekly attendance and Craig had two small groups that met in his home nearly every week. One of those groups exclusively used questions related to the weekend talk as their curriculum. As a result, we built our small group ministry at LifeChurch.tv to revolve around getting as many people as possible into small group environments where they could discover new spiritual friendships and use discussion materials that connected directly to the previous weekend’s teaching.
When you look at successful small group ministries in any church, you’ll find that each of them are pretty unique. They all have similarities, but each church’s model has been custom built to fit their church DNA. One of the greatest temptations of small group ministry leaders is to simply take another church’s model for small group ministry and insert it into their own context. It is imperative to resist this temptation and instead spend time listening to your church’s Senior Pastor. Find out what really gets your pastor excited about Biblical Community then build a ministry that leans heavily in those directions.
Church leaders have a tendency to cut and paste a model they see working somewhere else. Such an approach might work if the church were simply an organization. But a church isn’t an organization, it’s an organism. A pack of hyenas might see a cheetah successfully kill it’s prey, but will a hyena try to cut and paste the cheetah’s approach to hunting? No. The cheetah uses that hunting method because he’s a cheetah, not because the method works.
One of the best things you can do to build a strong small group ministry is understand the heart and mind of your church. Nine times out of ten that can be done by understanding the heart and mind of your senior pastor. Ask why people connect the way they do at your church. Ask why certain ministries thrive in your church and why certain ministries don’t. Spend time with your Senior Pastor. Figure our what makes aspects of Biblical community really make his eyes light up. Discover his heartbeat for community. Figure out if your church is a cheetah, hyena, wolf, spider, or eagle then build your ministry to hunt accordingly.