4 Traits Shared by the Most Effective Small Group Ministries

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Group Bible Study

Photo by marcia.furman.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?


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About Mark Howell

Mark Howell is the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, committed to helping churches launch, build, and sustain healthy small group ministries. He's also the Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church.  Having served as small group pastor at Woodlands Church and Lake Avenue Church, Mark is a seasoned veteran with experience in both the contemporary and the traditional church. In addition, he served as a consultant with Lifetogether and as a host for the Purpose Driven Campaign Coaching programs. You can read Mark's blog at www.markhowelllive.com or follow him on twitter.

  • Marlo

    I love that you say if the Senior Pastor is the small group champion, the church will be a church OF small groups. For decades now, we have struggled in this area especially as the church has grown bigger and bigger. It seems emphasis is placed for a while then it diminishes and we try to revive it with special campaigns only to see it falter until it needs CPR again. We even hired a pastor with the title of “Community Pastor” to help grow this area, but again….its been a struggle.

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