4 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Small Group Ministry

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It’s exciting to start something new! Our imaginations start running and we become excited at the potential of this new endeavor.

Wise people ask questions of those who are a step ahead of them, collect information from books, search the web, and pray a lot. And then they pray some more. Before launching a new small group ministry, it’s important to take enough time to set a firm foundation for the ministry.

Here are four initial questions to answer before starting a small group ministry: 

#1 What’s the purpose of our church’s small group ministry?

Answering this question is essential to a healthy, sustainable small group ministry. It sets direction and gives a point of evaluation down the line. Church leaders need to be clear on why the church is starting small groups. It involves asking additional questions such as: 

  1. What’s the role of small groups and spiritual formation?

  2. How will small groups carry out the mission of the church?

  3. How will small groups be catalysts for carrying out God’s mission?

#2 Who will lead and support the small group ministry?

Somebody, or better yet a team of people, needs to accept the responsibility of being the point leader for the small group ministry. Some churches hire a staff person to take the lead, others use volunteers. Use what fits best in your church, but it’s essential to know who is responsible to oversee the ministry as a whole.

#3 What are our connection pathways?

Small groups are all about connections. Some of the connection points are within the church itself. 

  1. How are leaders connected to groups? 

  2. How are small group members connected into groups? 

  3. Who are the small group leaders accountable to? 

  4. Who supports the point leaders of the small group ministry? 

  5. How will small groups connect with other ministries in the church?

  6. Think about the broader connections.  

    1. How will small groups connect with serving opportunities in the community or neighborhood? 

    2. How will they connect with community agencies already in place?

#4 How will we pilot small groups?

There are a variety of ways to pilot your first small groups. Consider these possibilities:

  1. Start a short term “turbo group” where people learn about small group life as they experience it. The goal of a turbo group is that each person starts a small group after this learning experience. 

  2. Use a pre-packaged, all-church campaign to give people a taste of small group life. Be sure to plan what shape groups will take after the campaign is finished.

  3. Design your own sermon-based small group campaign experience which casts a vision for group life specific to your church’s vision.

  4. Several weeks before your small groups begin, host a “Small Group Ministry Fair” where group leaders creatively set up information stations about their groups. This gives people a chance to ask questions and decide which group they will join.

  5. Host a “Taste of Small Groups” lunch (or several) after the weekend services where people experience a bit of small group life over a meal and are presented the vision for small groups. New small groups may form out of those present, or interested people may decide to join an existing group.

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Thanks for this summary.  I've been through the process of launching a congregational small group movement.  I think this article captures the main questions and tasks to work through in advance. I'll add two things to this post.

1) I found that you had to capture the moment.  There were times when I was trying to get something like this going, but it didn't really capture the felt need of the congregation at that point.  But then there was a time when people were really hungering for it and knew that it was necessary for the health and mission of the church.  And then it took.

2) Figuring out how to organize people into small groups is not always clear.  I asked a few leaders of churches that have flourishing, long-term small groups how to best gather people into groups.  They told me they hadn't found the obvious method yet.  You can do age-based, or intentionally intergenerational, or bring together people who are already friends.  But each model has its drawbacks.  And you have to accept that some groups are going to work better than others (that was helpful reality to hear!).  What worked fairly well for us was to organize our groups by geography.  We put everyone's address on Google maps and saw that there were clusters where people in our church lived around the city. I don't know if that will work for other churches, but we saw some clear advantages:

-it takes away the 'selection bias' of having leaders invite people to their group that they want to be with.

-it took away the excuse of needing to drive too far to small group

-we emphasized the benefit of building strong relationships with church members in their own area of town

-groups could be encouraged to find missional opportunities in their area of town, and 'adopt a senior' from the church who lived in their area and be intentional about calling, visiting, or dropping off a meal

-it creates a default process to include new people in a group: find out where they live and connect them to that group

-and if a group got too big it created a default way to split the group into two.