We’ve had a very good discussion here over the last 48 hours about the difference between “cell groups” and “small groups” (prompted by Randall Neighbour’s article on SmallGroups.com and my response). The comments here have been very engaging and have all had a great spirit and attitude. It’s been very fun to watch!
Several of the the comments really require more comprehensive answers. This article is the result of Brian Owen’s observation that he is “excited by the possibilities of reaching out to more people but find myself really concerned with the potential lack of ‘quality control’ for lack of a better word.”
Brian’s comment begs further unpacking of the crowd-to-core philosophy, quality control, and the pursuit of problem-free. Here’s what I’ve got. Follow along. And feel free to jump in any time.
First, while it’s an oversimplification to say that the crowd-to-core philosophy is just the opposite of core-to-crowd, it’s a good place to start. Core-to-crowd is the idea that if I pour into my core, teach them, equip them, love them and challenge them…they will go out and do what Jesus was talking about in the great commission. In some ways this is the essence of the cell group idea. Can you see it? If I build into my members and focus on them they will one day leave to start their own group (the apprentice notion).
Crowd-to-core on the other hand is a philosophy based on reaching into the crowd by providing simple steps that make it easy for them to respond and do the next thing that will ultimately help them join the congregation, make commitments that lead to service, and develop the mindset that puts the needs of others first…but all the while inviting their friends to come along.
Second, a little discussion of quality control in group life in general and group leadership specifically. The cell strategy usually relies on building into an apprentice with the idea that they will eventually birth their own group. The cell will divide (to use the biological metaphor) and you’ll have two groups and two qualified leaders to include on your roster of available groups to send potential members to.
Although it may not be a key component, this is an important distinction. If the system includes the church sending potential members to a leader, then quality control is a greater liability. On the other hand, if the leader (or host) is the one recruiting members, then you can make an argument that the upside outweighs the downside (i.e., if I invite you to my group, I am most likely a step or two ahead of you from a spiritual standpoint and more importantly, I am likely to invite friends that otherwise wouldn’t be part of a group).
Third, the contrast between core-to-crowd and crowd-to-core, along with concerns about quality control, lead directly to an understanding about the pursuit of problem free. Here’s what I mean. Take the two ideas: core-to-crowd (high quality control, cell-driven, apprenticing as source for leaders, etc.) vs. crowd-to-core (lowering the leader requirements, leader’s own friends become members, etc.) and list the problems associated with each system in a column beneath.
An honest evaluation will help you see that both ideas have sets of problems. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have.
Personal Conclusion: I enthusiastically embrace the crowd-to-core philosophy and would much rather have that set of problems, believing it is easier to mitigate those problems than the set that comes with a core-to-crowd strategy. An example of a problem that is immediately pointed out with a lower leadership bar is that it makes quality control more difficult. I believe that is more than offset by it being much easier to recruit hosts who will invite their own friends than to pre-qualify enough leaders to care for the number who are unconnected. I can mitigate the risk by requiring new leaders to attend an orientation, to use the pre-approved curriculum, and to have a coach. I make no guarantees of sending any members to any leader and can choose who to list on the website or catalog of available groups. Are there problems? Absolutely. Am I going to make it possible for a much larger number of people to be connected in community where they can grow in Christ, love one another and further the work of the Kingdom? I believe so. To me, crowd-to-core wins every time.
What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.