Andy Stanley: advice for pastors

In 1993, Sandra and I joined Bill and Terry Willits, along with three other couples, to form a small group. At the time I was working for my dad at a Baptist church. There was no small-group ministry in the church. Like most Baptist churches, adult education happened within the context of Sunday school, and as a staff member working with high school students, I was not able to attend an adult Sunday school class. Sandra and I felt that something was missing.

We had lots of friends. We both had older people in our lives to whom we looked for advice and accountability We weren't having marriage problems. Everything was great. But we were keenly aware that nobody was tracking with us as a couple. We weren't praying together with any other couples. We weren't sharing our lives with other couples going through our same season of life. And for some reason I still don't completely understand, we decided this was something we needed.

I shared our frustration with Bill. He and Terry had some of the same concerns about their own experience as a couple. So we decided to form a small group. We each invited other couples to join us. Then one week before we were to begin, I met a family at church that was new to the area and needed a place to plug in. What I didn't know at the time was that the husband was not a believer. More on that later.

What's important to understand at this point is that our group was not part of a church program; this was not a means to any preconceived end. We were just a handful of couples who sensed a need for community. We didn't use the term community back then. But looking back, that's exactly what we were missing. We all sensed a need to bring a layer of structure and intentionality to our otherwise random and unstructured friendships. We needed a predictable environment. We needed to “do life” together with other couples.

During the year we were together, several remarkable things happened. We celebrated the birth of a child, while at the same time locking arms with another couple in the group as they struggled with the pain of infertility. One man lost his job. Another couple almost lost their marriage. And toward the end of that year, we wept together as the gentleman I mentioned earlier shared that he had finally crossed the line of faith.

Those twelve months marked us. Sandra and I have been in a small group ever since. Our lives have gotten much busier. The demands of ministry have become heavier. Our three children require more time than ever before. But being in a small group is a nonnegotiable for us. We are about to begin our eleventh group.

We have two couples from our former group and three couples we met through our boys' involvement with baseball. Most of these new couples have been attending North Point Community Church for less than a year and cover the gamut in terms of spiritual maturity. Sandra and I can't wait to get started.

Whenever I talk to senior pastors about their small-group ministries, I always ask about their personal small-group experience. The majority of the time—and I mean the vast majority of the time—it turns out that the pastor is not actively participating in a group. At that point I say something rude. I think it is hypocritical for a pastor to champion something he isn't willing to participate in himself.

Meanwhile, the small-groups director is standing there giving me imaginary high fives. He or she knows what many senior pastors don't: Groups don't really impact a local church until they become part of a church's culture. And that begins with senior leadership.

Stanley, Andy (2009). Creating Community: Five Keys to Building a Small Group Culture (Kindle Locations 120-125). Multnomah Books. Kindle Edition.