7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design

7 Signs Your Small Group Ministry Has a Bad Design
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If it’s true that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing (Andy Stanley),” the corollary is that if you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it. After all, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein).”

Let me say that again. If you don’t like the results you are currently experiencing, you need to acknowledge that you have a bad design and change it.

7 signs your small group ministry has a bad design

Sign #1: Your percentage connected is flatlined.

Whether your weekend attendance is increasing or not, a flatlined percentage connected (the percentage of your adults who are connected in a group) indicates that your small group system is inadequately designed.

Think about it. Whether your weekend attendance is growing, staying the same or declining, the number of adults in groups ought to be increasing. And, your design ought to be capable of producing a growing number of groups and group members, sufficient to exceed all but the most dynamic weekend worship attendance growth.

If, on the other hand, your percentage connected is flatlined or declining, it is a strong indication that you have a bad design and must look for a better alternative. See also, Breaking the Mythical 150% Participation Barrier and The Catch a Moving Train Scenario.

Sign #2: You have trouble finding enough leaders.

This is a common symptom of designs that depend on selecting new leaders from the usual suspects (by usual suspects, I mean the people you already know, typically members of existing groups).

Think about it. Once your congregation is larger than about 250 adults it will become increasingly common that your senior pastor and platform staff will be recognized at the grocery store and restaurants by people they don’t know. When this happens your strategy must be able to recruit leaders from the adults you do not know because some of the highest capacity potential leaders will be unknown. This phenomenon is what makes the HOST strategy and the Small Group Connection strategy so effective. Both strategies recruit leaders from the unknown segment of your congregation and crowd.

Sign #3: You have leaders ready but not enough interest to fill their groups.

This is often an indication that there are too many options on the belonging and becoming menu (i.e., Sunday school, discipleship training, Precepts, off campus small groups, etc.). It can also be an indication that your congregation sees the weekend service as everything they need.

Think about it. If, when unconnected people look at your website or weekend program, there are too many options to choose from, they are less likely to choose a small group (from a purely mathematical standpoint, if nothing else) and more likely to choose nothing at all (from the standpoint of more options leading to fewer selections, not more).

The greatest opportunity to connect the largest number of unconnected people exists when a single first step out of the auditorium leads directly to a tailor made connection point.

Sign #4: Your coaching structure does not work.

This is a common symptom of bad small group ministry design. The wrong people or the wrong job description can both play a part in the implications of a bad design. And since one of two primary upsides of an effective coaching structure is its ability to sustain a much higher percentage of new groups, the lack of an effective coaching structure predicts a flatlined or declining number of groups.

Think about it. If whatever you want group members to experience must happen to the leader first (i.e., a sense of family, the knowledge that they’re being prayed for, life-change, etc.), then the coach must do to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for the members of their group.

If your coaches are not selected for their ability to do the right things to and for the leaders they are assigned to care for, they will default to the role they are suited to play (typically doing nothing or at best serving as a kind of accountant, checking on attendance and how often the group is meeting).

Sign #5: Your senior pastor is reluctant to champion the importance of community.

There are several reasons senior pastors are reluctant to champion the importance of community. For example, they may see you as the champion and not want to take back something they’ve delegated. They may not be in a group themselves and be hesitant to promote something they are not part of. Or, they may see your system as ineffective.

Still, building a thriving small group ministry requires the most influential person in the congregation (the senior pastor) to serve as its #1 spokesperson and champion.

Think about it. Connecting beyond the usual suspects (those already inclined toward community) requires changing the minds of the members in your crowd and congregation who aren’t naturally drawn to connecting. Your senior pastor as champion takes advantage of the most influential person in your congregation.

Sign #6: Your small groups deliver a sense of belonging but rarely produce becoming.

Small group strategies that make it easy to connect but aren’t designed to make disciples are poorly designed. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is more fundamental than becoming, but both are essential.

Think about it. Small groups are often characterized as “the optimum environment for life-change” but in order to truly be that, they must be designed for more than belonging. They must make becoming an ordinary part of the experience.

Sign #7: Only a small percentage of your new groups continue meeting after they’re launched.

This design flaw is a leading indicator for flatlined percentage connected. Strategies that struggle to launch and sustain new groups need an immediate overhaul.

Think about it. Regardless of the number of new groups launched, if you’re not sustaining a reasonably high percentage of new groups, your percentage connected is not likely to increase. Instead, you may only be replacing groups that come to an end.

This article originally appeared here.

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Mark Howell
Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and ChurchCentral.com.

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