I get questions all the time from small group pastors.
1. What curriculum do you suggest?
2. When and how should I split groups?
3. What strategies do you see that work well?
4. How do I find, recruit and train leaders?
While these are all valid questions, I have to be blunt: they are the wrong questions.
So what are the right questions to ask? The questions small group pastors should start with are far less intuitive but far more fundamental. Before asking procedural and strategic questions, small group pastors should have a clear understanding of several things (their church’s small group fundamentals):
- God’s small group calling for their church.
- The small group DNA of their church.
- The small group DNA of the senior pastor.
- The small group expectations/hopes of the senior pastor.
- What defines successful small group ministries in their church.
I can tell in minutes whether or not small group pastors know these things by the questions they ask. If they ask broad procedural and strategic questions first (like the ones listed above), they don’t yet know the fundamental small group pulse of their church. They ask broad questions because they are hoping to throw a bunch of stuff against a wall and see what sticks. This is messy and seldom leads to success.
On the other hand, small group pastors who know their church’s small group fundamentals approach me seeking much more specific information. They already know what strategies they’d like to try because they know the heartbeat and DNA of their unique context. They know what methods they don’t want to use because they know what doesn’t align with their DNA.
So here are some foundational questions that you should understand and ask in order to know your church’s small group fundamentals:
- What is God’s desire for our small group ministry?
- What does a successful small group ministry at our church look like in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years?
- What is our senior pastor’s level of commitment to groups on a scale of 1-10?
- What won’t work in our cultural context?
- What do I think will work in our cultural context?
- Does our church need/want a small group ministry that grows quickly or one that grows steadily?
- Is our church more open to a group ministry with well-controlled outcomes or one with more freedom and chaos?
- Does my senior pastor understand these questions and the implications of them?
- Is my senior pastor willing to give the necessary time and attention to these questions?
These questions may seem obscure. That’s because they are. These questions can’t be answered for you by another church or by a consultant. You have to give plenty of time and attention to these questions. Here’s why: if you don’t answer and understand these questions first, your small group ministry will flounder. You’ll experiment with every strategy out there and have little success.
Small groups can and will work in your context, if you are committed to asking and answering these questions. They’ll give you immediate insight into every new strategy that you encounter. You’ll know in an instant if an idea fits your church. You’ll know what success looks like and you’ll know what to aim at. Personally, if you aren’t willing to spend the time to answer and understand these fundamentals, I don’t think you should waste your time building a small group ministry. You’ll just be frustrated.