Talking Small Groups with Guest Rick Howerton

I’m a small groups guy. In fact, I’ve led conferences on ’em, led my churches to do ’em, been a small group leader myself, and been in ’em. I believe in small groups. Whether you’re a church plant or well-established church, people in small communities is essential for individual spiritual growth as well as church health.

Yesterday on Twitter I wrote:

“Most likely place transformation & missional engagement will happen is in small community– not large”

I also linked to a video on missional small communities here where I talk about small groups and their impact. 

Small groups matter, but some churches are struggling with their groups because they are unaware that there are different ways of implementing them, and that how your small groups work (or don’t work) will make a difference in your church. Choosing the one that is right for your church is vital.

Rick Howerton is my guest blogger today. He’s been a campus minister, small groups pastor, senior pastor, and has planted a successful church, The Bridge in Spring Hill, Tennessee. As the small group specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources, Rick spends every day talking with church leaders preparing to start a small group ministry, doing small groups, or re-strategizing their small group ministry. He is also the author of multiple small group training resources and Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual.

Small Groups done right are one of the sure pathways to making disciples and growing a church. Sunday School churches are doing them alongside their traditional approach, many churches do small groups exclusively, and I’m thinking 99% of church plants are laser-like focused and will do small groups without ever considering another option. But these organic microcosms of the church have become so diverse that most church leaders are not sure what they’re really discussing when a conversation about them starts up. There are at least seven different systems for doing groups and each of them has more variations on that particular theme than a Paganini Concerto.

Seven of the prevailing systems are…

1) Organic Community Groups
2) Preference of two or more group types
3) Closed Small Groups
4) Open Small Groups
5) Free Market System
6) Making Extraordinary Disciples
7) Cell Groups/Holistic Small Groups.

Choosing the right system for your church is vital. There are five criterion that you may want to consider when determining which system is best for your situation.

1) The senior pastor’s primary passion. Is it Theological, Relational, Restorational, or Missional? If you get this wrong, no matter how well the groups are doing numerically, there will never be a consensus that the ministry is accomplishing what it should.

2) Is the first entry way to the church the small group? If so, choose a system that has many different kinds of groups and many groups with low expectations of group members.

3) The number of leaders required for the group ministry to be effective. If your church doesn’t have enough group leaders for a given system choose an approach that demands fewer leaders.

4) What will you do with children. If you don’t have a large enough congregation to have childcare for groups during meetings the children will need to be equals in the group with adults or choose an approach so that husbands watch the kids while mom attends a group meeting and moms watch kids while dad attends a group meeting. Be sure to meet the needs of your single parents too.

5) Demographics. While this isn’t scientific my experience has shown me that the following groups do best with the demographic noted below. These demographics do represent the flagship church for each system.

Socioeconomics as well as the amount of education in a given demographic seemed to play a significant role in the effectiveness of each group system. The ratings on at the time of the research utilized the terms below average, average, and above average. In order to find out where the community your church is in ranks, go to and type in your church’s zip code. When you do this you will get even more specific information including median income, cost of living index, median mortgage to income ratio, average household size, median age, etc… . If your community falls in the top 10% or the bottom 10% of a category the website will designate that fact.

1) Organic Community Groups… Income: Below Average, Education: Above Average
2) Preference of two or more group types… Income: Above Average, Education: Above Average
3) Closed Small Groups… Income: Above Average, Education: Above Average
4) Open Small Groups… Income: Above Average, Education: Above Average
5) Free Market System… Income: Above Average, Education: Above Average
6) Making Extraordinary Disciples… Income: Average, Education: Above Average
7) Cell Groups/Holistic Small Groups… Income: Below Average, Education: Below Average

I am particularly interested in a conversation on the relationship between small group types and economic / educational factors. Would love to see some interaction with Rick on that subject.

Rick is gathering some of the most notable leaders of the small group movement for a free online forum. Check out the Who, What, When Where, and How of this thing.

What: The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts (a live, free interactive experience/forum for church leaders)
Who: Greg Bowman, Lyman Coleman, Bill Donahue, Carl George, Eddie Mosley, Randall Neighbor, Bill Search, Reid Smith, and Rick Howerton
When: Thursday, February 18, 2010, 10:30 a.m. to Noon Central Standard Time
Where: Watch from your own office or home computer or Starbucks or anyplace with an internet connection.
How to Learn More and Register: Head over to

In case you need Rick’s assistance, his contact info is noted below.

Rick Howerton
[email protected]

Let’s talk small groups with Rick as he will be interacting in the comments today.  

by Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer (Ph.D.) is author of Breaking the Missional Code, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too and Planting Missional Churches. For the second consecutive year, the LifeWay Research team led by Dr. Stetzer has contacted churches, gathered data and produced the OUTREACH 100 lists. Stetzer’s upcoming book, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and Churches that Reach Them (B&H), tackles the 20-something trend he explores in this report. He currently serves as the President of LifeWay Research. You can interact concerning this article at
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