Not long ago Craig Groeschel talked about the death of the five-year plan:
“When I started in ministry two decades ago, everyone I knew was making five-year plans. While thoughtful planning is wise and biblical, I’ve changed how I plan.
Instead of planning for specific buildings, campuses, staff roles and outreach, I plan to be prepared for opportunities that I can’t name today. Here at Life.Church, we’re focusing on creating margin and planning to respond quickly to ideas that we don’t yet have.”
He’s right. There was a time when everyone made five-year plans. And then the speed of change sped up and called for a new practice. So Groeschel and Life.Church adapted to the challenges of a different day and adopted a new practice.
And many churches go right on making five-year plans. Even though times have changed and the practice is no longer effective.
And so it is with small group ministry
In the same way, there are things that used to work in small group ministry … but no longer do.
1. Relying on apprentice leaders as the main source of new group leaders. Apprenticing is a biblical practice and a timeless practice. It just doesn’t end up being a viable main source for new group leaders for most churches. If you’ve already connected a very large percentage of your weekend adult worship attendance in groups and can afford to wait 12 to 18 months for each new leader to emerge … you are the exception. Since the vast majority of churches have connected less than 50 percent of their weekend adult worship attendance, a faster and more reliable source for new leaders is required. This is why both the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy within a church-wide campaign are so important to understand and implement. Both strategies identify often unknown leaders from outside the usual suspect pool. See also, 8 Secrets for Identifying an Unlimited Number of Leaders.
2. Matchmaking: Taking sign-ups to join a group and then placing members with leaders. There may have been a day when church staffing ratios were more robust and the hand-to-hand combat of finding just the right match for every person who wanted to sign up for a group made sense. Today’s staffing trends have long since made this an unsustainable practice. Hear me. I decided in 2000 to stop taking sign-ups to be added to a group and began only taking sign-ups to attend a small group connection or commit to host a group and fill my own group. There may have been a time when matchmaking worked. It is long gone in all but the rarest exceptions. See also, 5 Stupid Things That Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.
3. Assuming that life-change is happening in every group. I’m not sure life-change ever happened in every group, but the assumption that it is happening needs to be carefully evaluated. Like the servants entrusted to invest the master’s resources (and held accountable for the results), a lack of intentionality in small groups leaves pastors and leaders open to a harsh accountability. Building an effective coaching structure, doing TO and FOR your leaders whatever you want them to do TO and FOR their members, and providing a discipleship/curriculum pathway are essential practices if you want to build optimum environments for life-change. See also, Skill Training: Design Your Group Meeting for Life-Change.
4. Assuming biblical literacy. Unless your small groups only include Traditionalists (1945 and before) and older Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964), you cannot assume biblical literacy. Think about what this means when you choose small group curriculum that assumes knowledge of anything more than the most basic theological understanding. Think about what biblical illiteracy means when less than half the members of a group know that the Joseph in the Old Testament is not the same as the Joseph that married Mary. If you’re not choosing curriculum (and training leaders) with an awareness of a lower biblical literacy, you’re setting your members up for a struggle. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about 21st-Century Small Group Ministry.
5. Assuming a biblical worldview. Similar to assuming biblical literacy, assuming a biblical worldview results in many forms of misunderstanding. What is obviously counter to God’s will for Christ-followers is often an unsolved mystery for people who are still far from God or beginners on a spiritual journey. Marriage, same sex attraction and an ambiguous view of morality are just a few of the challenges of leading a small group ministry in the 21st century. See also, 6 Reasons Our Discipleship Strategies Miss Their Mark.
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