Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures

By Mark Howell

DNA GroupsHere are what I believe to be the top 10 DNA markers of churches with thriving small group cultures:

  1. The senior pastor walks the talk.  I am unaware of a single instance of a church with a thriving small group culture where the senior pastor isn’t personally engaged in a group.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.
  2. Staff and congregational leadership engagement in a group is far more than a written expectation.  Group engagement extends deeply into the leadership structure.  The most influential congregational leaders are clearly invested.
  3. Weekend services consistently refer to groups as an ordinary component in the life of a Christ follower.  Thriving small group cultures are in evidence 52 weeks a year.  Even an infrequent attendee understands that “this small group thing” is pretty important and not just something for high achievers.  See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.
  4. Small groups are an essential component of the ministry to children and students.  Knowing their leader knows them and cares about them is vital to children and students.  The powerful need to belong cannot be met apart from being known.  As Carl George said, “Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one ought to be caring for more than about ten people.”
  5. The church website (along with all communication forms) clearly prioritizes groups.  Churches with thriving small group cultures never present small groups as one option among many.  They also make small groups an above the foldhome page item.  Learning about groups and joining a group is never more than one click away.  See and for more.
  6. Joining a group is easy.  The process is clear.  There are no prerequisites and no middlemen.  See also, Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.
  7. New groups are regularly forming.  There may not be a new group every week, but the next opportunity to get involved in a new group is never very far off.  See also,Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People In Mind.
  8. The church budget clearly reflects small group priority.  Staffing, leader care and development, connecting events and strategies should all be resourced in a way that is indicative of their role in the overall philosophy of ministry.
  9. Significant resources are committed to caring for and developing group leaders.  Beyond budgeting, leaders receive the investment of time and attention of senior leadership.  In addition, the importance of small group ministry is evidenced in the allocation of on-campus space for encouragement, training and development events.
  10. Care happens systemwide through the small group.  Can you see it?  Pastoralcare happens so regularly and routinely through the small group system that it reduces the number of phone calls to the church office.  Congregational care is decentralized and more hospital visits are made by group leaders and members than staff.

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.