"What do you see trending in small group ministry?" Might be one my most frequently asked questions. Probably because everyone wants to be in on what's working and no one wants to be left out, still driving their daddy's model.
So what's trending? Here's what I'm seeing:
A more intentional discipleship pathway
What at least for a season took a backseat to simply connecting people in groups (and providing a Bible study in an attempt to keep spiritual growth on the rails), is more and more in the front seat. While there are still many churches offering discipleship as a stand-alone option, a growing number are reimagining and redesigning a groups' beginning and its pathway going forward (think Rooted, developed by Mariners Church).
A number of important ministry voices have weighed in on the need for more intentionality (including Rick Howerton, Eric Geiger, Ed Stetzer, David Platt, Robbie Gallaty, and others).
A subset of this trend may be a guided curriculum pathway. Encouraged by Eric Geiger and others, more intentionality is being designed-into the study selections offered or recommended to small groups and small group leaders.
- Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow
- Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples
- A Different Kind of Tribe
A more organic beginning
While the majority of churches continue to offer regular onramps to small group participation (church-wide campaigns, small group connections, GroupLink, semester-based groups, etc.), a growing number are leveraging a more organic method of encouraging small group participation and engagement.
While for many churches this more organic approach is primarily leveraged during the ramp-up for a church-wide campaign (i.e., Saddleback's HOST strategy and their more recent iteration, the "if you've got a couple friends" strategy), a growing number are inserting the language of more organic connection into their regular communication (bulletins, announcements, sermons, website, etc.).
Three is enough
While it can be a part of a more organic approach, there is also a growing acceptance of the smaller is better concept. Perhaps a combination of the triad arrangement emphasized in many intentional discipleship strategies and a more organic beginning being encouraged, smaller is at least more accepted and frequently commonplace.
As an example of this trend, note Saddleback's website description of a group:
"A small group is a group of three or more people who gather each week in a home, workplace, or online. In a group you’ll hang out, study the Word, and pray together."
Note: Most website descriptions still refer to a small group as "8 to 12 people..."
A heart for the community (and sometimes the crowd)
Reimagining and reengineering small groups to begin and grow in the neighborhood (as opposed to beginning and remaining safe-houses that enable small group interaction away from the fortress), is trending on many fronts. What began idealistically with missional community identification of third place meeting spaces and the development of open house strategies to create and build community in communities, has become an increasingly ordinary ministry philosophy.
While cross-cultural small group studies and church-wide campaigns are being developed and implemented with growing effectiveness, an emerging emphasis being encouraged is simply to learn to be neighborly.
Serving together is built in
Integrating serving opportunities into the ordinary fabric of small group experience is increasingly the norm. Once something only rumored to be happening in exceptional small group ministries is more and more commonly an expectation that is encouraged and resourced.
Serving together as an ordinary part of the small group experience is being resourced in a number of ways. Embedding the concept in the fabric of group launching strategies (like Mariners Church's Rooted) is growing in practice. Establishing a budget that encourages small group engagement with local mission opportunities (as Life.Church has done) and promoting small group engagement with mission trips (as Saddleback's P.E.A.C.E. project has done) are two more examples of intentionality. Simply providing a printed list or web-access to local partner organizations with serving opportunities is also increasingly common (see Forest Hill Church's example).