Diagnosis: Senior Pastor Buy-In

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There is a reason that an annual physical is recommended.  Although we may show up for the physical with some concerns, a thorough physical examination will sometimes identify developments that we did not sense already.  In much the same way, an annual diagnosis of your small group ministry is a good idea.

I’ve already identified several areas that need examination.  One of the most critical areas is senior pastor buy-in.  Why?  Because it is impossible to build a pervasive small group culture without senior pastor buy-in.  That is not an overstatement.  It is the plain truth.

Symptoms of Healthy Senior Pastor Buy-In:

  • Your senior pastor is actually in a group.  Start there.  That they are in a group is the first indicator of health.  Note: They do not need to be leading a group.  In fact, that they could be in a group they are not need leading might be a healthy thing.
  • Your senior pastor refers warmly to their group and group members.  This is a little on the warm fuzzy side of diagnosis, but the key is that their group participation isn’t a check-off item.  An earmark of genuine buy-in is that their group is a source of joy and encouragement.
  • Your senior pastor refers publicly to their group.  Not to say that they would necessarily identify members by name, but that they’re open about the personal benefits of being in a group.
  • Your senior pastor is the public face of your small group ministry.  That role is not delegated.  Regardless of who has the title of Small Group Pastor or Director, churches with pervasive small group ministries, churches of groups, are clear about who is the small group champion.  It is the senior pastor.  They are leading the public charge for group life.  Saddleback is the great example of this where Brett Eastman, Steve Gladen, and Ron Wilbur have carried the official title of Small Group Pastor but Rick Warren has been the unwavering small group champion.
  • Stories about group life are frequently included in your senior pastor’s sermons (story, live testimony, video, etc.).  Although the degree of frequency may vary, the ideal is constant reference.  Again, the example is Saddleback’s weekly reference to the importance of being in a group.
  • Your senior pastor takes strategic advantage of the natural seasons for small group emphasis.  Although they refer to group life year round, they are personally committed to leveraging key moments during the year to produce small group ministry momentum (late September/early October, late January/early February).


Diagnosis is essential.  So is prescription that moves your ministry in the direction of health.  The challenge for many of us is that moving in the direction of small group ministry health is about leading up.  Unlike your influence on small group leaders or coaches, if you are going to provide guidance for your senior pastor it won’t be by telling them what they must do.  It will be by becoming a resource and a help.  Here are some ideas that you can use:

  1. Regularly pass on the best stories about the benefits of group life.  When you hear a good one, be sure and tell it to your senior pastor.  Make it your business to find good stories.  Build it into the way your coaches operate (“What’s the best thing happening in your group right now?” should be every coaches first question).
  2. Become a talent scout and a video producer.  You should always be on the lookout for great stories that could be live testimony or recorded on video.
  3. Release your senior pastor to be in a refreshing group.  Encourage them to hand pick group members that are safe.
  4. When there’s a church-wide study that’s about inviting neighbors and friends, encourage everyone (including your senior pastor) to start that group with a preselected co-leader (who can keep the group going once the pastor returns to their safe group).
  5. Become a student of group life strategy.  Your understanding of how church-wide campaigns work, how to sequence a small group connection, and how to leverage video or live testimony to promote groups (along with many other ideas) will help your senior pastor succeed.
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