While the phrase “paradigm shift” may be used and heard a lot today, the actual occurrence of one is still a rare sight. A paradigm shift can be defined as a dramatic change by members of a group or community in the cognitive framework of basic assumptions, ways of thinking, underlying suspicions and methodology. I believe a true paradigm shift in small group ministry can release a desperately needed disciple-making revolution in our churches.
For many years, small groups were seen merely as an assimilation tool. In other words, if you get new church attenders plugged in to a small group, they won’t be able to sneak out the “back door.” While this was (and is) a real benefit of small groups, it was an isolated motivator that typically didn’t generate enough sustainable momentum for churches to eventually see the “back door” shrink or close.
Since then, small groups have been rediscovered as an oasis for community, transparency and best friends. In others words, you need a small group to form close-knit, Christian relationships in your life that allow you to be vulnerable and cared for. While this was (and is) a real benefit of small groups, it created two unforeseeable reactions:
A. Scared them away for good. People who weren’t already in a group became reinforced in their lack of participation because they didn’t want any more relationships in their life. The thought of having to create new, deep bonds with strangers was an overwhelming one.
B. Unrealistic Expectations. People got out of their comfort zones to visit a group, loaded with high expectations. When they arrived and looked around, they had trouble seeing their future “bestie” across the room and left disappointed, never to return again.
I have personally navigated my way through these paradigms of small groups. In many churches, small groups need a paradigm shift to unlock the potential God has hidden in them.
In this article, I want to share with you 5 Paradigm Shifts in Small Group Ministry that I have experienced as a groups pastor that have been absolute game-changers for me…
1. Promote spiritual growth more than you promote small groups. When your church is communicating to your people about upcoming opportunities to join a small group, talk more about what aspect of spiritual growth the group will be focusing on instead of the nuts and bolts of group life.
Can people meet new people at a small group? Yes.
Can people develop flourishing friendships over time at a small group? Sure, it’s possible…
BUT DON”T TALK ABOUT THAT! Talk about the study the group(s) is going to go through. Talk about how you believe people will grow as a result of going through the group curriculum. Elevate the value of participation in group life for personal development to the same levels that you also do for the weekend services, daily devotions, serving, giving etc.
Why? For one, it’s the truth…and for two, it will give your people a healthy focus at the beginning while everyone gets comfortable and gets to know each other. When it comes to small groups, most American Christians tend to get excited about content before being hooked by community.