The Importance of Gathering Your Small Group Leaders

By Steve Gladen

HuddleThere are two questions inherent in every small group ministry: How do you get people connected into new groups, and how do you sustain existing groups?”  There are two crucial areas you need to consider in sustaining your Small Group Ministry.  One is how you do infrastructure; not sexy, but needed if you have over ten groups in your church.  This topic will be discussed in next month’s issue. The second area, and the topic of this article, is Sustaining Gatherings.

What in the world is a Gathering? Why are Gatherings important and why should your church do a Gathering?  How do you do a Gathering?  Are Gatherings just for large Small Group Ministries?  Each of these questions needs to be answered in order for you to sustain the small groups you start.

What is a Gathering?  MLM’s (Multi-Level Marketing) or companies doing a “pyramid” strategy have known the value of bringing together their people for a rally for some time.  At these gatherings, the companies cast vision, share values, and get their people excited about the future. This is a valuable lesson we can learn from.  The church, however, reaches far beyond any MLM or “get rich quick” pyramid program.  The focus of the church is people and their eternal destination.

A Gathering (Appreciation Event, Small Group Night, Connection Rally, or whatever you want to call it) is bringing together all your small group leadership (current and future) under one roof so they can see the big picture beyond their individual small group. Current leadership consists of those doing the small group ministry, from those working the infrastructure to those leading the groups—anybody and everybody that plays a part.  Future leadership are those that are going to play a future role, but don’t know it yet.  Now don’t spoil it for them, they don’t need to know it now. So, how do you determine who to invite for future leadership?  A couple weeks before the event, ask all of your existing leadership to answer the question, “If you were to be gone tomorrow, who would do your role for the church?”  That is who they invite to the Gathering.  If they don’t know “who”, which is the case more times than not, get them thinking and praying about who to ask.

Why are Gatherings important and why should your church do a Gathering?  People need to be valued and to know what they are a part of.  What is the macro part they play beyond their small group or helping the Small Group Ministry?  A Gathering helps reinforce your church’s vision, values, and reinforces why those in Small Group Ministry are doing what they do.  At Saddleback, we do two Gatherings a year.  We do one in the late summer to get the groups ready for our Fall Campaign.  We do another one after the holidays in January or February to get our groups out of the holiday funk. Our infrastructure has gotten so large now, that in the summer we do a Gathering for our Community Leaders (our infrastructure that oversees all of our 3,500+ adult small groups) and one for Small Group Hosts (leaders).  We call our Gathering just that, Small Group Host Gatherings.

Here is what a Gathering can do for your church:

  • United people under the same focus
  • Cast vision repeatedly
  • Reaffirm “why” they do what they do
  • Honors—shows value for what they do
  • Connect them with body—all the other people doing what they do
  • Alignment behind common vision & goal of the Pastor
  • Help them see what part they play in that vision
  • Give people a chance to see their leadership up close and personally – hear from heart & ask questions
  • Gain ownership – pulling people together creates a sense of shared ownership in the vision
  • An opportunity to recruit new volunteers
  • Empower your leaders – newbies seeing leaders take hold of vision
  • Instill discipline and motivation to carry it forward. They will sacrifice for a vision not a task.
  • Motivation & inspiration, alignment & direction = fuel toward vision
  • Demonstration of community produces excitement
  • Show the authenticity & integrity of leadership
  • Begin to teach your leaders how to think out of the box

Getting people together to share a common vision is a powerful thing. This is a quote from someone who just attended our last Gathering: ”I was inspired to feel such a personal connection with other people in the room including the pastors who greeted and hugged each guest. I knew in my heart this must be the foundation of Saddleback’s small groups, making each person feel as though they belong while sharing the love of Jesus Christ” -Heidi Harjer (guest from the Rock Church San Diego).

Steve Gladen

Steve Gladen is Pastor of Small Groups at Saddleback Church, which sees over 30,000 people gathering weekly in 5,000 small groups. He's the founder of and travels widely to speak on the topic of small groups and healthy, biblical community. He is the author of several books including Small Groups With Purpose and Leading Small Groups With Purpose.