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Five Steps to Planting Life Giving Community Groups

I am real proud of Brad and excited about this great resource that explains how he led Mars Hill Church to establish over 500 small groups. It is a reproducible model full of robust theology, shepherding principles and practical steps. – Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29


By Pastor Brad House, author of Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support (2011 Crossway)

Click here to watch, “Community: Taking Your Small Groups Off Life Support”

The term “planting” invokes the promise of life. Whether we plant churches or gardens, we plant them with the intent to see them grow and flourish and reproduce. You determine the harvest by the manner you prepare the soil before planting season. It is the same with cultivating a life-giving community within your church. Thoughtful preparation at the beginning can greatly improve the fruitfulness of your community group ministry.

Here are 5 steps that should help get your church started toward life-giving community groups.

1. Ask why.

The first question I ask any pastor or leadership team is, “Why do you have community groups in your church?” The answer sets a trajectory that may determine your success. At Mars Hill Church, we don’t build community groups to grow the church or retain visitors. We build community to reflect the grace of God through Jesus Christ and to accomplish His mission of reconciliation. 

2. Establish community groups as an essential element of the church.

If community is an option in the beginning of your church, it will become difficult to make that shift later. Churches who start there tend to have a culture of community that naturally propagates.

3. Build structures and systems that reinforce your vision.

The structures and systems you employ for developing community can reinforce or undermine your vision. A tension exists between a loose management structure and overbearing dictates. One fails to proactively make disciples, the other feels obligatory and artificial. Take the time to consider the effects of your structures and systems to prevent unintentionally snuffing out what makes community life giving.

4. Invest in high-level leaders who own the mission and vision.

You need a handful of leaders who are willing to do the hard work of plowing, seeding and harvesting. Take the time to build up these leaders and they will help you sustain a movement of reproductive community groups. These will be your first coaches who oversee groups and disciple leaders. It is critical to get leaders in these spots that own the mission and vision.  Starting a bunch of groups without them is like expecting crops to grow without someone to nurture, water and weed. These leaders should be your highest priority. 

5. Teach your leaders to lead and let them.

I see two mistakes regularly in small group ministries. The first is neglecting to teach leaders how to lead without letting them actually lead. Teach your leaders to be Gospel centered shepherds of the appointed flock among them. The second mistake I see is not teaching them how to engage culture with the Gospel. The group needs to own the vision to make disciples and not just become an insular Bible study. This is the natural tendency if it is not monitored closely. 

Healthy small groups grow and reproduce disciple-making disciples. A well-prepared soil with ongoing tending, watering, weeding and reseeding will produce a perpetual crop of disciples.

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Over the last ten years, Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to almost 300 churches in the United States and networks of churches in multiple countries. Scott Thomas serves as president and director of the network, which focuses on the gospel and advancing the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. Founders and contributors to the Acts 29 movement include Mars Hill teaching pastor Mark Driscoll and lead pastor of The Village Church Matt Chandler.