Here’s a parable about building a small group ministry: We are blessed to own an older single-family home in a lovely suburb in Ottawa, Ontario. On the surface, it truly is a beautiful place to raise our family. On the outside, everything looks perfect. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It isn’t. This home was built in 1970, and over time the previous owners completed several major and minor renovations. Their work presents an interesting challenge because while everything might look great, you never know what you will find underneath the surface.
Let me give you an example.
A few years ago, we experienced issues along an exterior wall where ice would build up on the floor during winter. Ice. Inside. On the floor. I’m not kidding. When the ice thawed, it created moisture which, in turn, caused mould to grow. So we decided to fix it. The plan was to pull the drywall off, identify the issue, add insulation and build some shelves.
Simple right? Nope.
Once the drywall came down, I encountered several significant issues (electrical, framing, insulation etc.) that extended the project into weeks instead of days. It was a learning experience for me. Here’s the thing. The more projects I complete, the more I learn, and those lessons have been invaluable as I navigate new projects.
The Challenges of Building a Small Group Ministry
Does building, changing or expanding a small group ministry feel like that to you? Whether you are walking into an existing system with the task of renovating or charged with building one from scratch, you can often face significant challenges that, on the surface, weren’t apparent. Still, once you get into it, surprises await.
Perhaps you’ve said, “I wish I had known.”
I know, over the past three years, I have said those words as I worked towards building a small group ministry (or in my case, re-building). During that time, I learned several important lessons about building a small group ministry.
1 – It Will Always Take Longer Than You Think
This one caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have, but it did.
When I started building a group ministry I thought I could finish everything (vision, pathways, systems, training, resources) in a few months. And so I launched a public campaign that had people sign up to express their interest in being part of what we were building. It was exciting!
After a few months, I realized that the original targets were impossible and unrealistic. An anticipated few months became over a year and the constant delays were difficult to manage.
I am proud of where we have arrived at in building a small group ministry but because of my earlier miscalculations, I had to do “damage control” with those left waiting in the queue for far longer than they expected.
Always plan for more time than you think.
2 – You Cannot Do It Alone
I mean, you CAN, but you shouldn’t.
We can become so focused on connecting with others that we forget or sacrifice our created need for connection. The most valuable thing for me over the past three years has been getting in a room with others passionate about small groups and engaged in the same work as me.
The most life-giving moments have been hearing others express emotions, challenges and frustrations, that I thought were unique to me.
Satan has such a knack for convincing us that we are alone in what we are experiencing, doesn’t he?
3 – Expect Pushback
When you finally are finished building a small group ministry expect comments, emails or feedback that will be difficult to read or hear. Not everyone is going to like, agree with or appreciate the direction you are heading. It won’t matter how much you’ve prayed, or planned, or prepared. It won’t matter how excited you are.