Thriving Small Groups: Top 10 Things You Need to Know

Thriving Small Groups: Top 10 Things You Need to Know

Want to build thriving small groups in your church? It won’t be easy. It will require a commitment to the long haul, major determination, a willingness to commit resources, disappoint the guardians of the status quo, and much, much more.

But…if you believe that unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, if you want to connect far beyond the usual suspects (and even beyond your average weekend adult worship attendance)…there is no alternative. A commitment to building a thriving small group ministry is a non-negotiable.

Top 10 Things You Need to Know to Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry

The end in mind.

Do you have a sense of what it will look like when you have built a thriving small group ministry? The clearer your sense of what it will be like, even what it will feel like, the better your chances are of arriving there.

When you have clarity about the end in mind, you will be able to recognize the paths that do not go there.

Describing in vivid detail a picture of the preferred future is essential. Make no compromise and take no shortcut. As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

The real and awful truth about the present.

Knowing the end in mind is essential, but without knowing the real truth, the awful truth, about where you are right now, designing the path that leads from here to there will be an elusive dream.

Brutal honesty about the here and now is essential. And while the gritty details about the current state of your small group ministry include quantitative things like the actual number of groups and active members in them, they also include qualitative things like whether your group leaders are really making disciples and whether life-change is actually happening.

What you will call a win.

According to Peter Drucker, very few things are as important as determining what you will call success. Andy Stanley calls clarifying the win one of the 7 Practices of Effective Ministry.

Doing the hard work of grappling with what you will call a win is not a nice extra thing to do if you have time. It is at the essence of building a thriving small group ministry.

And it is not enough to clarify the ultimate win or what it looks like to arrive at your preferred future. Building a thriving small group ministry requires clarity about the smaller wins along the way that actually lead to the preferred future (think lead measures).

It’s about steps, not programs.

Programs do not lead to the preferred future, a thriving small group ministry. Well designed, hand-crafted and tailored steps lead from where you are to where you want to go.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you must learn to design easy, obvious and strategic steps that lead to the preferred future and only to the preferred future. And that last phrase is important. Anything, any program, any Bible study, any class, any ministry, that doesn’t lead to the preferred future is not a step. It is distraction.

How to narrow your focus (to eliminate all but the best steps).

Building a thriving small group ministry requires the discipline of saying no to the programs, ministries, classes, and studies that don’t lead in the direction you want to go. That same discipline allows you to say yes to draw attention to the steps that lead where you want to go.

Few things you will ever do are as difficult and challenging as saying no to good things that are not the best things. Nothing is more satisfying than helping an ever increasing number of people step onto the path that leads only to the preferred future.

When you are committed to narrowing the focus, there is no room for turning a blind eye to the inadequacies of yesterday’s solutions.

Resources must be allocated to the critical growth path.

Choosing a preferred future is one thing. Allocating finite resources to get to the preferred future is what demonstrates conviction.

All of the resources that must be allocated are zero sum resources. They are finite by nature. Budget, key staff and volunteers, space, promotional bandwidth and senior pastor attention are just a few of the most important resources.

“Leaders allocate the finite resources to the critical growth path.” —Carl George

Commit to the long haul.

The journey to build a thriving small group ministry happens over many seasons. It is something that happens as a result of years of resolve and steadfast commitment.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry you must know that it is not hard work this fall or this year and then counting on inertia to keep things moving in the right direction. Instead it has qualities of the fly wheel that requires constant application of attention to sustain momentum.

Building a thriving small group ministry is not a sprint. It is a marathon. If you want to arrive at the finish line, you must commit to the long haul.

Keep one eye on the preferred future.

Maintaining focus on the end in mind, using preferred future language to cast vision for the promised land is a non-negotiable. And this will not be easy. Keeping in mind the long haul nature of building a thriving small group ministry, there will always be the steady pressure to give focus to something else this fall or this year.

It will be tempting along the way to settle for something less than a thriving small group ministry. Only by rehearsing again and again what it will be like will the steadfast pursuit continue.

You must know that taking your eye off the preferred future always leads to drift, and drift rarely arrives at the destination of choice.

Keep the other eye on the very next milestone.

Milestones that are clearly visible in the near future enable your team to stay focused and encouraged.

Milestones can be quantitative (a number of groups or a percentage connected statistic). Milestones can also be qualitative with a little effort (capturing life-change stories or monitoring feedback cards).

The objectives that must be accomplished to reach the next milestone are the kind of things that keep teams focused.

Celebration is a non-negotiable.

A culture of celebration is a must have. Celebrate milestones reached and wins experienced.

Have a question? Want to argue? 

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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