Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins with You

By Mark Howell

photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

Senior pastors…you need to know something.  If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you.

I don’t know what has prompted your hope for authentic community to take hold in your church.  Maybe you’ve listened to Rick Warren or Andy Stanley or Bill Hybels talk about their own personal small groups and how important they’ve been in their own lives.  Maybe you’ve come to it through your own insight from scripture that you can’t do the one anothers in rows.  See also, The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Small Groups and Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles.

I don’t know.  But I do know this: If you want authentic community to flourish in your church, it begins with you.  It must begin with you because the hope that your congregation will experience something different or more than your own experience…isn’t anchored in reality.  If you want your congregation to experience authentic community it begins with you.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and 5 Things Senior Pastor Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.

And the question might be, if you’re not in a small group now, how can it begin with you?

Here are a five ideas to help you get started:

  1. Start your group as a test-drive.  You don’t have to begin with a lifetime commitment!  It’s okay to start with a toe-in-the-water.  ”Would you do this six-week  study with me (or with us)?”  You’ll probably begin to get the hang of it in about week 3 or 4.  When you get to about week 5 you might actually start looking forward to spending time with your group.
  2. Hand pick the members of your group.  It shouldn’t be open to everyone.  Hand selecting your group members will give you (and your spouse) confidence that you can do life together.  Choose people you like to spend time with.  Choose people who are refreshing to be around.  Choose people you already trust.  Be prepared to say, “I hope you understand but our group isn’t an open group.  Might be someday, but not right now.”
  3. You don’t have to lead your group.  When you include the right members, the group doesn’t need to meet at your house, you won’t need to facilitate the meetings, or provide all the snacks.  Your group meetings can be all about building relationships and experiencing authentic community.
  4. Choose the best possible time for you and your family.  Your group can also meet with the frequency that works for you.  You know the rhythm of your life.  Choose a meeting time that makes sense for you.  The right members will accommodate your situation.  Note: Frequency is an important ingredient of authentic community.  The more frequently you meet, the easier it becomes to reconnect.
  5. Choose a study that requires no preparation.  It shouldn’t be work or one more thing to get done.  Choosing a simple “show up” study makes it easy to focus on relationships.

Mark Howell

Mark Howell is the founder of, 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 or follow him on twitter.