Why Small Groups Don’t Work

Reason #3: Hiring Program Administrators

We hire program administrators to run the small group ministry instead of hiring shepherds who will do the mundane, repetitive work of caring for sheep. Effective small group pastors possess strengths that allow them to focus their energies on caring for people, developing leaders and gathering people around a vision.

I’m not sure that this is something that comes that easily for those of us who have been in church leadership for any length of time. Our traditional church structures have depended upon those who are good orators and those who are good program administrators. It does not take long to see this when we assess the average M.Div. program. And look at the most popular books that target pastors. The bestsellers speak to the issue of vision development skills, leadership aptitude and communication skills.

I hope that I am wrong, but my observations have caused me to conclude that we under-value those who are gifted as shepherds, those who take joy in coming alongside groups, mentoring leaders and dealing with difficult pastoral situations. Instead we hire program administrators who know how to track growth, run budgets, organize curriculum, manage the small group calendar and read reports. They know how to run the small group program but they don’t have the strength set that focuses on investing in group life, developing new leaders, sharing life with multiple groups in an area, dealing with group conflict and eating meals with people under their care.

Reason #4: Design Flaws

Design principles guide the work of architects so they can build sound structures. Architects and structural engineers don’t copy the work of others verbatim. Every building is unique, depending upon many factors including the terrain upon which it is built. If the architect is not equipped in sound design principles, then he will be forced to copy and thereby build something that might not fit the situation at hand.

If we apply this analogy to a small group structure, then we need to identify a few things in very clear terms:

First we need clear small group design principles. There are many good books and blog sites that are available to equip us all in designing good small group structures.

Second, we need architects who are able to apply these design principles to local contexts. In other words, an architect is not one who develops a structure that looks like what is written about in other books. An architect is one who designs a structure that fits the needs of the environment.

Third, we need builders who can build the structure that has been designed. Most architects are not good builders and most builders are not adept at the creative thinking required to apply sound design principles to specific situations.

Fourth, we need maintainers who can keep the small group system working right. This is where the role of the pastoral shepherds comes into play. See this post.

The problem has been three-fold. First, most churches don’t think about the need for these roles when developing or growing groups. Therefore depending upon the personalities and strengths of the people involved (either staff or volunteer) they will focus on one of the roles. Usually, I find that churches will focus on the role of the “builder.”

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M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.