Recently, a church of 2,000-plus people contacted us, wondering if we could help them with their small groups system. They had tried everything but kicking and screaming to get their people in groups; but no matter what they did, they couldn’t get more than 30 percent to sign up. Guess what the first question we asked was: “Is the pastor in a small group?” (He wasn’t.)
Apparently, the lead pastor of this church had fallen into the kind of unhealthy thinking that many of us are susceptible to. He didn’t want to be in a small group because he was hesitant to let members of his congregation get that close to him; he was afraid they would find something about him they didn’t like. You know what? They probably would have! But that is all right. We are all human, and we’re called not to be perfect but to let Jesus make us perfect in our weakness.
Ego issues are personal stumbling blocks that need to be brought before God. If a pastor chooses not to participate in a group in an attempt to keep an elusive distance, or for any other reason, the system will never work.
Your church’s attitude toward small groups will be a direct reflection of the senior pastor’s attitude.
Not only must the pastor be ecstatic about and fully participating in small groups, but every member of the church staff must also do the same. Period. This is a team effort, not the show of a “small-group specialist.” When the staff fully buys in to small groups, you have the ability and the credibility to emphasize groups in every area of your church. The worship leader can talk to team members about small groups while the community service person talks to participants about small groups while the Sunday coordinator talks to volunteers about small groups. Get the idea? Everyone is involved.
If members of the congregation can point to staff people who aren’t part of a small group, then they automatically think it’s not a priority in the church and they start coming up with reasons they can’t be in one either. We have found that people will use any available excuse not to grow. So, at The Journey, we made a decision not to give them any.
We require all of our staff members to be in a small group. Most of them lead groups on their own initiative. In addition, most of our staff have small-group administrative responsibilities that require them to help form small groups each semester and give staff oversight and support to those groups as part of their position description (see “Forming Your Groups” section).
When your staff understands the importance and benefit of groups, they want to be a part of the system. Never forget: Small groups work from the top down. When the people running the church are excited about the system, the people in the church will get excited as well.
Take a minute to consider the alternative to full staff participation. Say you decide to start a small groups system or revamp the one you currently have, but you are so busy with other church obligations that there’s no way you could run the system. So, early on, you hire a specialist to take charge. Everyone else on staff knows that the specialist is in control of groups, so they don’t really think much about them. The mindset is not one of community and teamwork, but rather one of “let the guy getting a salary for groups deal with them.” Inevitably, you or some people on staff decide they don’t have time to even be in a group, and the deterioration begins. In this kind of small-group culture, you will never get more than 30 percent to 40 percent involvement.
People will know what is important by what you do, not by what you say.
The fact is that people buy into the leader as a person before they buy into that leader’s vision. If you, as a leader, aren’t buying into your own vision for small groups, you can be sure that no one else will either, because they buy into you first. There’s no shirking the responsibility. This all begins with you.
Searcy, N., & Thomas, K. (2010). Activate: an entirely new approach to small groups. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.