What is the best way to do small group ministry? Is it better to use a free-market approach? Does a sermon-based group strategy make sense in a seeker-sensitive church? Can we kind of do a mash-up of several strategies and come up with one that really works for our community and our congregation?
These are all great questions! They get asked all the time. And these are just the tip of the iceberg!
So…what’s the answer? Is there a best way? I think there is a best way…for your church. Can you take parts of one system and combine it with another and end up with something good? I think that’s how you end up with a system that works well in your environment.
How do you figure out the best solution for your church? I think you have to start with a good foundation built on the answers to several questions:
- The first question is what will success look like for your small group ministry? This is a critical first step question. Another way to ask it is, “What will a win be?” Here’s what’s at stake. If you aren’t clear on what you’re trying to do, you run the risk of building a system that can’t do the right things. For example, if success is connecting 150% of your weekend adult attendance, you’ll need a different system than if success is developing families that flourish in a fallen world (I just made that one up…not even sure what it means). See also, Clarifying the Win in Your Small Group Ministry and Clue #4 When Building Your Small Group Ministry.
- Next, ask yourself if the win you’ve just identified is attainable given current assumptions about things like membership requirements for leaders, attention span of senior leadership, and your congregation’s willingness to prioritize group life? The key to this step is that declaring what a win will be must be based on reality and not wishful thinking. Getting to there can be a God-sized stretch, but there’s no point in dreaming if the dream is dependent on unattainable changes in core philosophy of ministry. See also, Tall Tales and Downright Whoppers That Keep Churches from Launching New Groups and 5 GroupLife Dots You Might Not Be Connecting.
- The third question is who will be your customer? Think about it this way. Do you only care about connecting and developing members of your church? Or do you have a more outreach oriented persuasion? Time spent determining the answer to this question will help you think about things like curriculum options, leader expectations, as well as leader selection and training. See also, Four Keys to Customizing Your Small Group Strategy.
Once you’ve worked through these questions you’ll be ready to think about what system makes the most sense in your setting. Remember, there is no system or strategy that is truly problem-free. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. That said, here are the most common small group strategies.
- Meta Church
- Semester Based
- Free Market
- Connecting Church
- North Point
- Cell Church
- Church-Wide Campaign-Driven
I hope this article helps you begin the hunt for the right small group system or strategy. For more help, take a look at my new 4 session mini-course.
Image by Ryan Schultz