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How Pastors Ruin Their Small Group Ministries

How Pastors Ruin Their Small Group Ministries

A while back I watched a webcast of a pastor announcing a new small group model at his church. Their current model had connected roughly half of their members into groups, but it wasn’t attracting the other half. He felt the solution was to scrap their current model and move to a new model. I actually screamed at my computer, “No! Why are you wrecking what works for half of your people? It’s working for them.”

The pastor went on to explain that now about 60 percent of the 50 percent already in groups were embracing the new model. I chose to withhold my applause. Why? Because he already had those folks in groups! If only two-thirds of the people already in groups were signing on to the new thing, isn’t that actually going backwards?

The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Said

Pastor, there is no one strategy or model that will appeal to your entire congregation. It doesn’t exist. At our church in California, we connected 125 percent of our average adult attendance into groups by using five different strategies simultaneously. But, wasn’t that confusing to the groups? Actually, it wasn’t. Each group only used one strategy. Was it confusing to me? That actually doesn’t matter, does it?

I’ve met a lot of pastors who want to shutter their old school Sunday school to get everyone into home groups. In fact, after seminars pastors have come up to me and said as much. I would tell them, “I know what your spiritual gift is.” Now, I had their attention. “You have the gift of martyrdom.” Of course, as Rick Warren says, the problem is you can only use that gift one time.

If It Ain’t Broke…

If Sunday School works for some of your people, run Sunday School. Don’t expect everyone to go to Sunday School, even though the old song says they “ought” to. If one type of group works for most, but not for all, then let those group work for most. Do something else with the rest.

Why Do Pastors Long for a Magic Bullet?

If one strategy could connect every member in our church, if one model could work for everyone, it would be a pastor’s dream come true. Why? Because it’s efficient or dare I say, convenient. For busy pastors, it’s easier to manage one system, not three.

Variety Is the New Uniformity

Your members are looking for variety, not uniformity. Look at how many car models were made last year. Look at how many new books appear on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. Look at how many ways you can drink coffee at Starbucks. The Blue Plate Special died 50 years ago.

What Is a Small Group Anyway?

Why do you have small groups? Coolness is not the right answer. Merely forming small groups could contribute to more problems. Rather than individuals leaving the church, now they might leave linking arms. (Keep reading. It’s OK.) If groups offer care, encouragement, fellowship, Bible study and leadership development, can that only happen in a small group? What if a Sunday School class was accomplishing those things? What if your existing groups were already doing that? Isn’t this meeting your goal? Isn’t this building people up?

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Allen White consults and speaks in the areas of small group strategy, staffing structure, volunteer mobilization, and spiritual formation. Allen is the author of Exponential Groups: Unleashing Your Church’s Potential. He blogs at http://allenwhite.org.