Whether you are starting from scratch at a brand new church plant or blowing up a large system at an existing church, there are some principles that can help set up your new plan for success down the road. Here are five guidelines to think through.
1. Define the Win
Every ministry has to decide what its win looks like, and this is especially true for groups. If you don’t know what success looks like, how can you celebrate it? As you dream about what groups could look like at your church, start with the end in mind. What results would you like to see if your system works perfectly? Andy Stanley says, “Your system is perfectly designed to get the results you’re getting.”If my church is not producing disciples, there’s probably a systems problem. If only a small percentage of the congregation is involved in groups, it’s probably a systems issue. If we are not developing enough leaders to keep up with our growth, it probably has something to do with our leadership development system.
2. Choose a Champion
I talk to a lot of small group pastors who cannot get any traction with groups at their churches. The first question I ask is, “Is your senior pastor in a small group?” Almost every time the answer is “no.”
It’s not impossible to build a successful groups system without the senior leader being fully on board, but it’s extremely difficult. The congregation is going to take its cues from the leaders, and if the senior pastor is not engaged in community, they will follow his lead. It does not matter how much he talks about the importance of groups from the pulpit if there are not consistent stories circulating from his own small group.
3. Put It in the Budget
When it comes down to budgeting for small groups, a lot of churches follow the example of Pharaoh in Exodus:
That day Pharaoh commanded the overseers of the people as well as their foremen: “Don’t continue to supply the people with straw for making bricks, as before. They must go and gather straw for themselves. But require the same quota of bricks from them as they were making before; do not reduce it. For they are slackers—that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ (Ex. 5:6–8)
Often, we are asking our point people for groups to build a successful system without the necessary straw, but we are still expecting big results. As much as we want to believe community happens organically, it still takes resources for them to be strategic and effective.
4. Make It Scalable
Your church may never triple in size overnight (although it could), but now is the time to start planning for God to do the unexpected. What happens when you activate your first all-church campaign, and suddenly you need to triple the number of current groups to meet the demand? Do you have enough coaches? How difficult is it to become a small group leader in your church? Can you fast-track the vetting of new leaders? You should always be ready to go when God moves.
5. Make It Replicable
Think through not only what could be replicable across different locations, but also what small groups look like in different layers of your church. The heart of student and kids’ ministries are small groups, and those ministries can benefit from partnering with the adult groups system for training, leadership development, and structure ideas. What if the same team that develops Sunday message studies works with the student leaders on theirs? What if a few adult group leaders mentor small group leaders in the kids’ ministry? Replicating successful systems will help break down silos within a church.
Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over 22 years of experience serving the local church. Chris served on the Executive Team at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, and was on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC, for 15 years. He also manages SmallGroup.com for LifeWay Christian Resources. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, was just released by Thomas Nelson. You can follow his blog at chrissurratt.com or follow him on Twitter @chrissurratt.