When will you start?
Look at the calendar and your church culture. There are three ideal times to start small groups: fall, January and post Easter. For Saddleback, fall is the best time for us. We start our Campaign a few weeks after school starts so families can get into their new routines. We use the summer to get ready, September to recruit and October to launch. Your church will have a different schedule, and that’s okay. Do what culturally fits your church.
What’s your Pathway?
When you start groups, your leaders need to know what you want them to do. Not only do you need to know your “end in mind”; you need the same for your small group leaders. Just like Jesus took His disciples from “come and see” through a three year relational process to “come and die”; we too have a relational process for our “hosts” to become “leaders”. Now we pray none of them need to die, but we do want to take them from where they are to a deeper commitment in Christ. For a peek at our pathway see http://www.smallgroups.net/ltkit.html. Whatever you design, know where you want to take your leaders.
What’s your infrastructure?
It’s easy to start groups; it’s hard to sustain them. Since 1998, our small group team has seen our small groups grow from 280 groups to over 3,500 groups. That doesn’t happen without infrastructure. Just like a city needs roadways to develop as a town turns into a city, your small group ministry needs its roadways. Two critical parts of your infrastructure are Community Leaders (CL’s) who are the leaders of leaders. They are the relational arm of your ministry. They provide the care and direction to your small groups. They help with focus so groups don’t drift. At Saddleback we have over 180 volunteer CL’s who give their time for the betterment of our small group community. Another part is “Gatherings”. Gatherings are the vision arm of your ministry. A gathering is bringing your leaders together periodically for alignment and vision. It can be done over dinner or coffee. At Saddleback we do two Gatherings a year, one in the beginning of the year (to get us out of the holiday funk) and in August (to gear us up for the fall).
Don’t stand alone!
The enemy loves to lead in isolation and fear. Fear stops us from taking risks for the Kingdom. Isolation cuts off our supply lines so we can’t fight the good fight! In 2006 God inspired me to start the Purpose Driven Small Group Network so that no one would stand alone. I know what it’s like to do the day in and day out ministry of running a small group ministry. I don’t sit in an ivory tower writing things I think might be true, but write out of the 20 years of doing small group ministry in churches of all sizes. I know what it’s like to be the only one in your church thinking community is the greatest thing since Easter. I am blessed with an incredible staff. My prayer is this Network will be your staff, standing with you to help you fight the good fight. Don’t think you need others around you—think again! To learn more about this free Network, see http://www.pdsgn.wordpress.com/.
Prepare your heart.
Probably the greatest thing I’ve learned along the way I learned in Seminary. It’s called the Messiah complex. It’s where you take on the role of the Messiah and bear everyone’s burdens on your cross. The problem is, you can’t do it. You will burn out. Symptoms are a lack of quiet time and/or Sabbath forgetfulness. Just as God can take your financial tithe and make 90% go farther than your best 100%; He can do the same with a Sabbath. He can make 6 days go farther than your best 7 days. The principle God is working on has nothing to do with finances or time, it’s all about obedience. If you don’t prepare your heart now, the work FOR God will destroy the work OF God in your life.