Top 10 DNA Markers of Churches with Thriving Small Group Cultures

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Every organism has DNA. So does every organization.

They each have their own DNA. And no two are exactly alike. They share some traits and not others.

And when you look carefully at the DNA of any organism or organization you will find a set of markers. The markers are often looked for in the attempt to explain development, understand health and predict future challenges.

Top 10 DNA markers of churches with thriving small group cultures:

1. The senior pastor walks the talk.

I am unaware of a single instance of a church with a thriving small group culture where the senior pastor isn't personally engaged in a group. See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups.

2. Staff and congregational leadership engagement in a group is far more than a written expectation.

Group engagement extends deeply into the leadership structure. The most influential congregational leaders are clearly invested.

3. Weekend services consistently refer to groups as an ordinary component in the life of a Christ follower.

Thriving small group cultures are in evidence 52 weeks a year. Even an infrequent attendee understands that "this small group thing" is pretty important and not just something for high achievers. See also, Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Groups.

4. Small groups are an essential component of the ministry to children and students.

Knowing their leader knows them and cares about them is vital to children and students. The powerful need to belong cannot be met apart from being known. As Carl George said, "Everyone needs to be cared for by someone but no one ought to be caring for more than about ten people."

5. The church website (along with all communication forms) clearly prioritizes groups.

Churches with thriving small group cultures never present small groups as one option among many. They also make small groups an above the fold home page item. Learning about groups and joining a group is never more than one click away. See and for more.

6. Joining a group is easy.

The process is clear. There are no prerequisites and no middlemen. See also, Making GroupLife On-Ramps Easy, Obvious, and Strategic.

7. New groups are regularly forming.

There may not be a new group every week, but the next opportunity to get involved in a new group is never very far off. See also, Design Your Connection Strategy with Unconnected People In Mind.

8. The church budget clearly reflects small group priority.

Staffing, leader care and development, connecting events and strategies should all be resourced in a way that is indicative of their role in the overall philosophy of ministry.

9. Significant resources are committed to caring for and developing group leaders.

Beyond budgeting, leaders receive the investment of time and attention of senior leadership. In addition, the importance of small group ministry is evidenced in the allocation of on-campus space for encouragement, training and development events.

10. Care happens systemwide through the small group.

Can you see it? Pastoral care happens so regularly and routinely through the small group system that it reduces the number of phone calls to the church office. Congregational care is decentralized and more hospital visits are made by group leaders and members than staff.

What to do with this information:

As with any organism or organization, it is possible to alter DNA with therapies or treatment (I know this is a developing science and we have only incomplete knowledge on work with me).

My recommendation is to use this article as a checklist for analysis of the DNA of your small group ministry. Which markers do you already have? Which do you need to develop? Determining where you are healthy and where you need to change can identify milestones to be attained.

Thriving small group ministries only grow where the right DNA markers are present. Does your church have the right markers to produce a thriving small group ministry? Or does your church need an altered DNA? Which markers are missing? Which missing marker will you work on in 2021?

Thriving small group ministries only grow where the right DNA markers are present. Does your church have the right markers to produce a thriving small group ministry? Or does your church need an altered DNA? Which markers are missing?… Share on X

What do you think?  Have one to add? Want to argue? You can click here jump in to the conversation.

Image by Tristan Martin

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  1. Josh Hunt on August 7, 2013 at 9:23 am

    One more: there is regular training for leaders of groups.

  2. markchowell on August 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Note #9!