7 Perplexing Dilemmas of Small Group Pastors and Directors

Share via:

Call them dilemmas, issues or problems...we all have them. Here are what I've found to be the most common...and some steps you can take to break through the barrier:

1. My senior pastor won't be the champion of small groups.

There are several basic reasons for this. Some don't want to play favorites and choose one ministry over another. Others feel like they've hired you to be the champion! Either way, until your senior pastor moves into the champion role small group ministry will be limited.

What can you do? There's no way around a season (or several) of seeking understanding while patiently casting a vision for harnessing the power of the most influential person in the congregation. Pointing to the examples of senior pastors in churches with thriving small group ministries can help. Sharing certain articles can help. Debugging what a champion is and isn't will help. While this is rarely an overnight turnaround based on a single conversation, you can help your senior pastor become an effective champion for small group ministry.

See How Can I Tell My Pastor about This?

2. My senior pastor isn't in a small group.

This is a different issue than #1. Sometimes they feel like they're too busy. More often than not they feel a little threatened by the prospect of letting down their guard with members of their congregation.

What can you do? This is another opportunity for patient vision casting with a twist of explanation. Suggest they assemble their own "closed" group of very trusted friends (It is often a senior pastor's understanding that the group will be open to all). Several of my pastors have had hand-selected small groups with carefully chosen members who became deeply connected. Suggest they begin with a commitment to gather a group during your upcoming church-wide campaign (with the understanding that the only sure thing is completing the sessions of the study). Suggest the commitment of being part of a group led by a trusted friend (It is often eye-opening to senior pastors that they don't need to lead the group).

See also, Diagnosis: Senior Pastor Buy-In and 10 Commandments of Small Group Ministry.

3. I can't find enough coaches.

While this is a very common dilemma, it's almost always a matter of intentionality, effort and vision casting. We all have people that could coach and would be very effective.

What can you do? Learn to identify potential coaches. Once you understand what you are looking for, they are much easier to see. Learn to wisely recruit potential coaches. The right candidates are often willing to engage when the invitation is made in the right way. Keeping them engaged is a challenge, but it can be done.

See also, Three Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure, and Where Can I Find New Coaches?

4. I can't find enough leaders.

This is a big challenge, especially when we don't know what to look for, where to look, or are looking for the wrong thing. The solution is almost always about clarifying what it takes to be a leader and re-imagining how they are recruited.

What can you do?

The key in most cases is clarifying who can lead. Sometimes whole systems are saddled with leader expectations that are limiting and unrealistic. Along with clarifying who can lead, reimagining the way leaders are identified is a game-changer. When leader identification depends on an outdated strategy (or an ill-conceived strategy), it is set up to fail.

See also, Small Group Leaders: Finding, Recruiting and Developing and Raising the Bar, Lowering the Bar or Open Bar.

5. My church's buffet approach makes it hard for people to know what to choose.

This is a very common issue. In my experience most churches offer a buffet and  rarely recognize the resulting challenges. Is there a solution? I believe there is. but it takes some work.

What can you do? Choosing which of the menu items will be promoted in a given season will make a great difference. Beginning to think strategically about how certain menu items can be refreshed to become strategic steps on the way to the right destination is essential.

See also, A "Plated Meal" Leads to a Church OF Groups, Think Steps, Not Programs, and Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious and Strategic.

6. Our on-campus ministry directors (Sunday School, Bible Fellowships, Classes, etc.) think we're slighting them when we promote off-campus small groups.

Unless your church began with an off-campus small group strategy, you probably are challenged by this dilemma in one way or another. Few announcements or promotions are more challenging to make than one that highlights one option over all the rest. Further, as it becomes more clear that offering and promoting more options actually leads to less engagement, the challenge increases. This is a common dilemma but not insurmountable.

What can you do? Lots of sensitive conversations. There's no getting around it. Lots of coffee. Plenty of lunches. Framing the issue in a way that opens eyes without cheapening or demeaning the value of on-campus strategies like Sunday School.

See also, But We Have Adult Sunday School! and How to Build a Small Group Ministry in a Church with a Sunday School Culture.

7. We're stuck in terms of percentage connected.

Almost everyone struggles with this dilemma. It's not unique to your situation. A percentage of attenders in every church has a natural inclination for community. Every church has a group of people who are innately drawn to community and will find it even when obstacles make it challenging.

As Abraham Maslow pointed out, the need to belong is very high in the hierarchy of needs. But while the need for belonging is high, the recognition that joining a group will satisfy the deep need to belong is not common. 

Churches can only increase the adult percentage connected when they become intentional about connecting those who are not naturally inclined to connect.

What can you do? The key to breaking through to a new level almost always has to do with diagnosing the very first step in your strategy. Here's the essential question: Does what you're offering make sense to unconnected people?

See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected PeopleWhat Percentage of Your Adults are Actually Connected?, Four Questions that Evaluate Small Group Model Effectiveness, Do You Know This Connection Secret? and Does Your Topic Connect with Your Real Customer?

What do you think?  Have a question?  Have one to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Image by Tom Lin

Print Friendly, PDF & Email