Connecting the Dots: Overcoming 5 Common Small Group Struggles

Connecting the Dots: Overcoming 5 Common Small Group Struggles
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Do you have small group ministry issues you just can’t figure out? Feel like there are just some dots that don’t connect to anything? I think most of the time, they actually do connect. We just miss the connection between the way we’re doing things and the results we’re experiencing.

I love this line from Andy Stanley:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

If you don’t like the results you’re currently experiencing, it’s time to start connecting some dots.

Here are five small group ministry dots you may not be connecting:

I can’t find enough leaders

I can’t find enough leaders is most often connected to the method you’re using to identify and recruit them. Setting the leader qualifications too high can play a role here too, but leader scarcity is almost always related to inadequate leader identification tactics. If your leader identification design is simply announcing your upcoming new leader training course, waiting for volunteers or relying on the apprentice model, you really are set up for disappointment.

Solution: Begin building in easier ways for potential new leaders to put their toes in the water. The HOST strategy combined with a church-wide campaign is a great way to offer a six-week test drive that often results in a long-term commitment. A small group connection allows potential leaders to be identified by their peers in a very affirming way. The short-term on-campus strategy enables potential leaders to surface naturally over the course of six weeks.

Coaching doesn’t work here

Coaching doesn’t work here is connected to the way you’ve designed the coach’s role and who you assign them to coach and care for. The primary reason coaching doesn’t work is that the coach’s job description produces accountants who count things instead of developers who shape people.

A second reason coaching structures often fail is that new coaches are too often retroactively assigned to experienced leaders who no longer need the only thing their coach is trained for and released to do (i.e., teach better technique).

Solution: Re-design the coach’s role to focus on development. Keep in mind that whatever you want to happen in the lives of group members has to be experienced first by the leaders of your groups. The role of the coach ought to be about producing the kinds of experiences in the lives of your leaders that you want your leaders to give to the members of their groups.

People are too busy to commit to a small group

People are too busy to commit to a small group is connected to two important dots. First, the way you’ve designed the menu of opportunities is a  difficult challenge to overcome for churches who pride themselves in providing an excellent buffet of opportunities. The advantage of a limited selection is that it is easier to provide next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.

Second, the way grouplife is described is everything. When grouplife is described as anything less than an essential ingredient for life-change, it becomes a non-essential and optional ingredient in the congregation.

Solution: Intentionally shorten the menu and perfect the way you talk about grouplife (verbally, in print and on the web). It may have to happen over 24 months, but the sooner you get to the place where next steps are designed to be easy, obvious and strategic, the sooner you will begin to see greater commitment. Perfecting the way you talk about grouplife clears up confusion about what’s important.

Small groups don’t make disciples

Small groups don’t make disciples is directly connected to the way you’ve defined a disciple and the way you’ve designed the small groups in your system. If your small group ministry isn’t making disciples, the reason is embedded in the way your ministry is designed.

Solution: If there is ever a time to take seriously Andy Stanley’s statement that your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing…this is the time. Give adequate thought to what you’re trying to produce. Carefully describe a new preferred future. Re-design your system to eliminate any steps that don’t lead to the future that you’ve chosen.

It’s not the right time

It’s not the right time is connected to a lack of understanding that there is always a window closing for the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community.

You’re not saying, “It’s not the right time”? Feel free to substitute any of the following phrases:

  • We need to do a capital campaign this fall, so we’ll delay our church-wide campaign until the spring.
  • We need to lay the foundation for a healthy small group ministry before we add new groups.
  • We need to train new leaders before we even think about starting new groups.
  • We need to build a healthy coaching structure before we add new leaders.

One tough thing away

If you’ve been along for very much of our conversation here, you’ve heard me say many times that “unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being at your church. Loss of a job. Divorce or separation. A devastating diagnosis. A child in trouble.”

An important corollary

Still, you may have missed what I believe is an important corollary idea: Infrequent attendees are often one service away, one conversation away, one life event away, from deciding to make attending a more regular event. It may be strange to think of it that way, but it’s the reason so many refer back to an Easter or Christmas Eve service and say “that’s when I really got it.” Or they might refer to a message series that pulled them in (“We didn’t miss a week during the 40 Days of Purpose”).

What we must keep in mind

Can you see it? Unconnected people are always close to the one thing that will decide their spiritual destiny. One tough thing away. One opportunity to connect. One. When we delay connecting opportunities, we must always have this reality in mind.

Solution: Make a commitment to the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community. Take your Easter adult attendance (an estimate is fine) and subtract the adults who are truly connected. What remains are the unconnected people in your crowd. Write that number where you can see it every day. Figure out the approximate number of unchurched people in your community. Write that number where you can see it every day.

Become the advocate for the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community. Take extraordinary steps to see the world from their perspective.

Which dot are you not connecting?

Sometimes you can have almost everything right and still miss the result you’re hoping for and the preferred future you’re dreaming of reaching. Sometimes it’s just missing one dot that clears up everything.

Which dot are you not connecting?

Honestly, sometimes the missing dot can only be seen by fresh eyes. Sometimes only a strategic outsider can see what you’re missing.

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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