My Top Three Learnings about Small Group Ministry This Year

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I’m an experimenter by nature, so I’m always on the lookout for what’s next.  Here are the top three things I’ve learned this year.

First, joining a small group that meets in a stranger’s living room is not easy.  In many instances it’s even harder and requires more  courage or desperation than attending a weekend service for the first time.  It may be true that only the most extroverted people will be willing to use an online finder.

This is why I remain enthused about the connection potential of on-campus events like Saddleback’s small group connection, North Point’s  GroupLink or even a group fair (where group leaders can meet potential members).  See also, Distinctives of the Three Types of Small Group Connecting Events.

It’s also why I am becoming a bigger fan every day of leveraging short-term (5 to 8 weeks) on-campus group-based events to launch off-campus groups.  See also, File This Under Connection Ideas and Breaking: North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.

Second, cause may have supplanted community as the leading impetus for connection and engagement.  James Emery White’s insightful post earlier this year theorized that there has been a seismic shift in outreach.  I believe his theory is being confirmed every day in a variety of ways.

The basic idea of White’s theory is that the driving force behind outreach and evangelism has shifted twice over the last 60 years.

  • From the 1950s to the 1980s a direct proclamation style flourished (think Billy Graham and Willow Creek’s creative weekend services).  “This led to joining a community and then being discipled into participation with the cause.”  Unchurched >>> Christ >>> Community >>> Cause
  • From the 90s through the 2000s community moved to the front of the equation.  A desire to belong before believing was the clear pattern.  Once a part of community, trust could develop, Christ was found in community, and the cause could be joined.  Unchurched >>> Community >>> Christ >>> Cause
  • The current trend seems to be cause first.  “Cause has become the leading edge of our connection with a lost world, and specifically the “nones” (and it is increasingly best to replace the term “unchurched” with the “nones”).”  Think Compassion International, water, human trafficking, etc.  Nones >>> Cause >>> Community >>> Christ

How will this shift affect what we do?  Is there a way to create natural next steps that lead from engagement through a cause to connection in community and find Christ there?  See also, Connecting the Dots: Your Strategy and Post-Christianity and Essential Reading: The Church in an Age of Crisis.

Third, building “next steps for everyone and first steps for their friends” is the missing link in the discipleship equation.  Making the first step too difficult (come and die) and thinning the herd on the front end is no worse than making connection easy (come and see) and not providing progressively more challenging, age appropriate next steps of maturity.  Both methods are inadequate if you want to have the greatest impact on the largest number of people.

What works?  A legitimate crowd-to-core strategy that truly provides next steps for everyone (crowd, congregation, committed, and core) and first steps for their friends (community).  See also, Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group SystemRecruiting Like Jesus and Even a Lizard Can Respond to Come and See.

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

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  1. Pam Stroup on September 10, 2013 at 4:05 am

    Regarding your 2nd point… It seems that “Discipleship” is a renewed emphasis in many churches today. Does this renewed emphasis indicate a response/initiative within the church to the next outreach trend to the current outreach trend?

  2. markchowell on September 10, 2013 at 6:34 am

    That’s a good question, Pam. I’m not sure. I actually believe that there’s quite a mix of hopes and motivations within the discipleship movement.