I’ve been a student of small group ministry and ministries for almost 25 years. I’ve read everything I could find. Found ways to ask a lot of questions. Even cultivated my own set of confidential informants (okay, that’s not really what they were, but you get the idea).
Let’s just say I have been a student and I’m still learning.
Along the way I’ve carefully noted the distinctives of the various strategies and models. Come to conclusions about their advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve also noticed that the most effective small group ministries share four key traits.
- They are championed by the senior pastor. It’s interesting to note that Steve Gladen and Bill Willits have played key roles in building the two largest small group ministries in the country but are rarely, if ever, seen in the weekend services at Saddleback and North Point. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
- Small groups are offered as the way you get connected and the way you grow spiritually. They’re not promoted or described as one of several options. See also A Plated Meal Leads to a Church OF Groups and 7 GroupLife Deal-Breakers…and the Workarounds You Need to Know.
- Carefully designed on-ramps make it easy for unconnected people to join new groups. Saddleback’s annual church-wide campaign complemented by periodic small group connections identifies new leaders and connects a growing number every year. North Point’s Group Link strategy coupled with their Access Group concept provide 4 to 5 opportunities every year to join a new group. See also Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
- Leaders are mentored and cared for through a customized approach. Neither organization offers a one-size-fits-all coaching concept. Both provide the level of care needed by an ever expanding network of small group leaders. See also Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy and When Coaching Philosophies Collide: How Can Both Be Right?
By the way, Saddleback and North Point are the two ministries I’ve referenced, but Willow Creek was a great example of these same four traits in the ’90s when they were the premier example of an effective small group ministry. Think that’s a coincidence?