Definition: Benchmarking is a tool used to measure or compare your work or progress with others who are doing the same thing. Benchmarking is a powerful tool because it overcomes “paradigm blindness”—the mode of thinking that says, “The way we do it is the best because this is the way we’ve always done it.”
Because it is difficult to get a handle on what is going on in other small groups outside of your own (or inside your own church), SmallGroups.com does live surveys each month on a variety of small group topics. The purpose of these surveys is to uncover a sense of what is going on in small groups around the world, and particularly in North America.
These surveys are not intended to be a scientific sample of those involved in small groups. And benchmarking—or comparing your small group to other small groups—is not intended to be a substitute for the Holy Spirit’s work and guidance in your group. However, knowing what other small groups are doing can be a helpful diagnostic tool and can show what God is up to within the larger small group movement.
With that in mind, here are some results of SmallGroups.com surveys on the subject of developing leaders and tackling challenges.
Defining the Leaders
The group leaders who responded to the survey broke down as follows when it comes to their experience leading a small group:
• 19 percent were just getting started
• 9 percent had 6 months or less of experience
• 18 percent had 1–2 years of experience
• 16 percent had 3–4 years of experience
• 34 percent had more than 5 years of experience
Fifty-five percent of group leaders said they led their small group as a husband and wife leadership team. Eighteen percent of group leaders were single, while 51 percent of small groups assigned specific leadership responsibilities to multiple members of their small group. Fifty-three percent of group leaders also hosted the small group in their own homes.
Of the student/youth small groups that responded, 78 percent were adult led and 22 percent were student led.
When asked what spiritual gifts are most important to small group leadership, responders ranked gifts in the following order from highest importance to lowest:
New Leader Development
A large majority (81 percent) of group leaders said they are currently working with at least one person (an apprentice) in their group who could one day lead another small group. Additionally, most group leaders have good intentions of seeing their apprentice launch another group within a year:
• 49 percent of group leaders said they would definitely multiply their group within a year
• 22 percent had strong intentions of multiplying their group within a year
• 20 percent said they would like to multiply their group, but it wasn’t likely to happen this year
• 9 percent said there was no way they would launch a new group this year
However, reality is harsher for groups that start with a goal to start a new group by multiplying out one or more people. Of those groups:
• 36 percent have not multiplied
• 6 percent did it within 6 months or less
• 19 percent did it by a year
• 17 percent did it by two years
• 8 percent did it by three years
• 14 percent did it after four years or more
Challenges for Group Leaders
When asked, “What is the biggest core problem facing your small group right now?”
• 30 percent said it was developing a new leader within their group
• 23 percent said it was members’ low desire for outreach and service
• 17 percent said it was the group’s lack of mission and purpose
• 15 percent said it was the lack of spiritual transformation in group members
• 9 percent said it was shallow group prayer and worship
• 6 percent said it was the avoidance of dealing with relational conflict in the group (22 percent of all group members who responded said there was a relational conflict happening in their group right now)
Additionally, a majority of group members (52 percent) said they always feel competition for the time they devote to small group relationships. An additional 33 percent said they experience at least significant amounts of time in competition that hinders their small group relationships.
Dealing with Special Needs
When it comes to individuals in your small group with high needs, 87 percent of responders said they have at least one individual in their group where “extra grace is required,” and 26 percent have 3 or more individuals in their group where “extra grace is required.”
When a member of the group is in need of special support or recovery:
• 39 percent of group leaders said they refer the member to professional counselors
• 35 percent of group leaders recommend these members to specialized groups/ministries within their church
• 26 percent of group leaders care for these special needs within the community of their own small group.
When small group members share a specific financial or resource need within the small group:
• 37 percent said their group collectively pools support and resources to resolve those needs
• 21 percent said they supply spiritual support, but refer the person to a separate benevolence ministry in the church
• 8 percent refer the person to a church pastor
• 30 percent said they have never faced this situation in their group
Dan Lentz; copyright 2007 by the author and Christianity Today International