Here are what I believe to be the top 10 DNA markers of churches with thriving small group cultures:
1. The senior pastor walks the talk. I am unaware of a single instance of a church with a thriving small group culture where the senior pastor isn’t personally engaged in a group.
2. Staff and congregational leadership engagement in a group is far more than a written expectation. Group engagement extends deeply into the leadership structure. The most influential congregational leaders are clearly invested.
3. Weekend services consistently refer to groups as an ordinary component in the life of a Christ follower. Thriving small group cultures are in evidence 52 weeks a year. Even an infrequent attendee understands that “this small group thing” is pretty important and not just something for high achievers.
4. Small groups are an essential component of the ministry to children and students. Knowing their leader knows them and cares about them is vital to children and students. The powerful need to belong cannot be met apart from being known. As Carl George said, “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one ought to be caring for more than about ten people.”
5. The church website (along with all communication forms) clearly prioritizes groups. Churches with thriving small group cultures never present small groups as one option among many. They also make small groups an above the foldhome page item. Learning about groups and joining a group is never more than one click away.
6. Joining a group is easy. The process is clear. There are no prerequisites and no middlemen.
7. New groups are regularly forming. There may not be a new group every week, but the next opportunity to get involved in a new group is never very far off.
8. The church budget clearly reflects small group priority. Staffing, leader care and development, connecting events and strategies should all be resourced in a way that is indicative of their role in the overall philosophy of ministry.
9. Significant resources are committed to caring for and developing group leaders. Beyond budgeting, leaders receive the investment of time and attention of senior leadership. In addition, the importance of small group ministry is evidenced in the allocation of on-campus space for encouragement, training and development events.
10. Care happens system-wide through the small group. Can you see it? Pastoral care happens so regularly and routinely through the small group system that it reduces the number of phone calls to the church office. Congregational care is decentralized and more hospital visits are made by group leaders and members than staff.