Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church of Groups

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Some fantasies are just doggedly persistent. You know the kind. They don't go away on their own and they are really hard to shake! One of the most persistent fantasies of churches with small groups is that the small group champion role can be delegated.

What makes it a fantasy? Because it can't be delegated! At least, not if you really desire to become a church of groups, where nobody stands alone. Why? Why can't the role of small group champion be delegated?  Say to the highly paid and super qualified small group pastor? There are two main reasons:

First, the senior pastor almost always has the most clout in the organization.

While there are a few exceptions (i.e., an interim pastor, a brand new senior pastor that just joined the staff, etc.), there are very few. Most of the time, the senior pastor has the most clout.  They are the most influential person. If anyone is going to be able to persuade everyone to take a baby step and join a six-week 40 Days of Purpose small's going to be the senior pastor. They are the most trusted person in the room. They are the person everyone watches to see what is worth doing if you want to be like Christ.

If anyone is going to be able to persuade everyone to take a baby step and join a six-week 40 Days of Purpose small's going to be the senior pastor. They are the most trusted person in the room. Share on X

Second, the most effective moment in the service to make the ask is during the message.

The optimum moment to challenge everyone to be part of a group as we begin this journey together is smack dab in the middle of the one time when everyone is paying attention to the same thing! And that is during the message. It is not during the announcements. After all, doesn't everyone know that just like when we watch TV, when the commercials come on we're all thinking about what's next or lunch or why anyone would come outside in that outfit! If there's one time when that is less likely to happen it is during the message. And it goes without saying that the senior pastor is most often the person who is preaching when you're preparing for a church-wide campaign or a small group connection.

Why Do Senior Pastors Resist Being the Small Group Champion?

It's a fair question. Having worked on a number of staffs, in my experience the main reason they're resistant is that delegating the role just seems like the natural thing to do. After all, the small group pastor or director usually knows more about it and is more passionate about community. Another pretty common motivation is that they're focused on preaching, they've got a biblical truth they're trying to get across, and while they usually believe that being in a group is important, it's just not their main message. And last, they're almost always very reluctant to steal the thunder from a teammate.

But...if they really want to become a church of groups...they've got to begin to see it another way.

The Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion

This is so important that I've written on this a number of times. Here are some additional articles that will help you:

The bottom line?  If your senior pastor really values biblical community and really wants everyone to experience it for themselves...they need to champion the value. That means living it out (values are caught not taught). But it also means being the champion.

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  1. Daniel Altimus on August 19, 2011 at 1:20 am

    Doesn’t Jim Egli’s research indicate that small groups can thrive even when the senior pastor is not the champion? 

  2. Anonymous on August 19, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Not sure Daniel. The key might be the definition of “thrive.” If you’re talking about connecting beyond the usual suspects, I see no evidence of a church OF groups where the senior pastor is not the champion. Doesn’t mean Rick Warren and others don’t have a very important behind the scenes team making it happen. Just means that in becoming a church OF groups requires the full and very visible engagement and support of the senior pastor.

  3. Jim Egli on August 20, 2011 at 3:20 am

    Hi, guys. We specifically looked at several things related to this in the research. When we did the factor analysis the different individual variables coalesced in two ways. One was a factor we labeled “small group emphasis” which was how much the senior pastor talked about small groups and how much the church communicated it as an expectation, etc. To our surprise this did not show a strong causal correlation to small group health and growth. However, the second category of items merged into two factors which were active coaching of leaders (which included coaches in touch with and involved with leaders and consistent support/leadership meetings for leaders) and equipping (both training of leaders and discipling of new Christians/new members). These showed very strong correlations to small group health and growth.

    So basically what we found out was that it’s more important that the senior pastor walks the small group walk (giving small groups the staff, structure, budget, and attention that they require) than that the senior pastor talks a lot about small groups (without necessarily giving the groups practical help they require).

    So in terms of what you said Mark, what the research showed was that it requires the full engagement of the senior pastor but that the visible part did not show the importance that we thought it would.

    I think the lesson here is that a lot of senior pastors try to preach small group strength into existence without giving the group system the thought, attention, staffing (paid & volunteer) and energy that it needs for long-term success.

    Ideally groups have the full support/involvement of the senior leadership and they are talked about a lot, but the former is the more important of the two elements. Hope this is helpful.