Have you ever suddenly noticed something so obvious and then wondered how in the world you could have missed it before?
Call it what you want, when you see (and understand) certain things for the first time, it really is like a 100-watt lightbulb suddenly illuminating the room. And some lightbulb moments—insights—are such game-changers you literally never see things the same way again.
Five lightbulb insights that clarified small group ministry for me:
• New groups are the key to connecting more people. It is very tempting to assist dwindling groups by “sending them another couple or two,” but adding unconnected people to existing groups rarely leads to an effective connection. The longer a group has been meeting the more impermeable the membrane around group members becomes. While there are exceptions, only the most brazen extroverts (or friends of existing members) can break through beyond three to four months. The most effective way to connect unconnected people is to focus on launching new groups. See also Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs. Start New Groups?
• Matchmaking is a dead end. The sooner you stop facilitating matchmaking (attempting to find the perfect group for everyone who fills out a sign-up form), the sooner you can focus your limited attention on the most effective activities. Eliminating every “sign-up to join a group” opportunity (guest card, letter to first timers, etc.) and instead offering periodic opportunities to sign-up to attend a connection will add hours to your week that can be focused on more productive activities. See also 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.
• What is done to and for the leader determines what happens in the lives of their members. A small group ministry may be the optimal environment for life-change, but without a leader who has already experienced (or is experiencing) whatever you want to happen in the lives of the members of the group…it will be a meager experience. Curriculum can help keep a Bible study on the rails. Training in technique can assist the leader in leading a lively discussion. Training in abiding by the guidelines of a group agreement can fabricate a functional group. But if you want the members of the group to truly experience life-change, you must have a leader (or be developing a leader) who has already experienced what you want the members to experience. And this understanding determines the true role of a coach. See also 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR Your Small Group Leaders.
• Coaching is not about technique. New leaders will either figure out everything they need to know about how to lead their group (technique) in the first three months, or the group won’t make it. Most new leaders will benefit from coaching in the techniques of leading an effective discussion, understanding and leveraging group dynamics, including the more reserved members of their group and limiting the contributions of the more dominant personalities in their group. But while most new leaders will benefit from some coaching on technique, it is what a coach can offer beyond the first three months that will ultimately have the greatest impact on the leader and the members of the group. A life-changing relationship with a spiritual mentor a few steps ahead who can do to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for the members of the group is a game-changer. See also 20 Frequently Asked Questions About Small Group Coaching.
• Retroactively assigning coaches to existing leaders almost never works. “We need to assign every group leader to a coach” is one of the most potentially dangerous conclusions a small group ministry pastor can come to. Another dangerous conclusion is that having a one to five ratio (coach to leader) is more important than having the right people in the role of a coach (often leading to recruiting warm and willing coaches as opposed to hot and qualified). New leaders who make it through the first several months without a coach’s help know they do not need a coach. After all, if a coach was an essential ingredient (and they didn’t have one) their group would have died prematurely, right? Wise small group ministry pastors identify, recruit and develop coaches who can be assigned to help new leaders get off to a great start and establish a relationship that will endure well beyond the initial three months. See also 5 Toxic Small Group Ministry Moves.
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