Small Group Ministry in the CRC

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I think this site has some great potential if enough movers and shakers in the denomination get on board. That being said, I am curious about the number of churches using small groups as THE key component in their discipling of believers. And if you are how are they set up? Do you use a certain model or concoction of models to fit your context?

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Hi Allen.....funny meeting you here :)

This really brings me back to the Willow GroupLife conference. On the way home from Chicago, the discussion in our car went something like this:

Most church experts agree that there's three big keys to growing, healthy churches: small groups, great [modern] worship and children's ministry. Oddly enough, these are the three things that seem to be most lacking in our pastoral training.

That said, I've been wrestling with the issue myself. Here's the deal - if you're a chuch planter, you can infuse small group DNA into your church, and everyone talks about that. However, if you're a church "resurrector", the situation we both find ourselves in, how do you infuse small group DNA into an established church?

This is now my second try (my first one wasn't good in the small group development dept.). I see two key lessons that I learned and am now trying to apply:

1. Don't fool yourself into thinking EVERYONE is going to get into a group (ie, the old "household" model). This is bad and good. Bad because even the best big churches have 50% participation. It is good because it also means accessibility for the unchurched. For instance, our small group is meeting next week and I can invite my neighbor, who has absolutely no interest in church but wants to belong.

2. Don't fix what ain't broke --> usually, established churches already have men's groups, women's groups, bible studies, prayer groups, etc. Instead of replacing those for people, recognize that they work and grandfather them into the small group structure. Start calling all your bible studies small groups; call your worship teams small groups; then encourage them to act like small groups and work unconnected people into new groups.

What's your take on this?

Participant

"2. Don't fix what ain't broke --> usually, established churches already have men's groups, women's groups, bible studies, prayer groups, etc. Instead of replacing those for people, recognize that they work and grandfather them into the small group structure. Start calling all your bible studies small groups; call your worship teams small groups; then encourage them to act like small groups and work unconnected people into new groups.

What's your take on this?"

I don't think this is valid at all. Just the amount of groups you've listed show that the church is just too busy for small groups to be effective.

We've begun a visioning process here and already we are looking at how to simplify to make disciples. I am convinced that many church systems inherently keep people from actually becoming disciples even though they have lots of what they call disipleship ministries.

I think we talked about this during our coaching times, that churches need to have a structure for growing disciples that actually works. Business kills it. If the small group doesn't take you to deeper personal application and hold you accountable to these new commitments then chuck 'em. Keep it simple so people can actually be involved without feeling guilty.

You know what I mean?

one of the questions I have is how to make these groups more than simple discussion places. How do we get these groups to really be open and accountable to one another? I know it starts with getting to know one another, but often the material that you get for small groups starts superficially and sets that up as the tone for the entire group time, never moving any deeper into core struggles and issues that are crucial for growing in holiness.

For example, I know that sex and money are two MAJOR areas that most of us (especially men, but women too) fail to live righteously in, where can we go to get real support for these kinds of areas.

What kinds of groups have you seen work in building real accountability into the lives of Christians?

Participant

Chad,

I really believe it starts with the vision and purpose of the groups set forth by the leadership. If they are just another program of many, then I think it will be difficult to form any real depth because people are thinking programatic and since no other program gets deep, why should small groups.

I found that in an established church the statement has to be made that this is going to be something really different than they are used to; it's about accountability and growing spiritually not just in more knowledge. I tell them that it is not going to be a Bible study, but where real transformation happens; be ready to be uncomfortable, but if you desire to grow as a disciple then stick with it.

The vision of what they are supposed to be must be absolutely clear. I've even told people in a previous church that they may not turn it into a Bible study where no one gets real. I'm a hard ass sometimes.

Then you have to spend a lot of time with your leaders training them what it means to lead such a group. There is some great stuff out there especially on smallgrouptrader.com (FREE) and smallgroups.com (worth the $99). Then coaching them while their dealing with this new phenomenon they've never encountered before is essential. Otherwise they will not have the vision, will become discouraged and momentum will slow.

Developmentally it is hard for groups to become immediately transparent. It's always a process that must be nurtured and sometimes people need to be challenged along the way. Leaders need to learn to ask the right questions that don't leave people safe. And they lead the way in being vulnerable.

I have found that accountability groups can work if the people are committed to it. I started one with some guys that is still going strong. But it is only 4 for good reason. If it's a moral compass kind of group then small is better.

Our sermon-based small groups are the best I've seen as far as taking the application to heart. As I'm writing the sermon, I know what questions I want the groups to talk about. I know where the folks are at and what stuff they struggle with so I'm able to formulate the questions to be very personal. Often each group member sets a goal for the week in relation to the questions and they follow up the next week. Some leaders even started calling their people during the week to see how things were going.

The groups also commit to doing mission together in the community with their families. That has really deepened the group as they serve and debrief.

Re: Small Groups in an existing environment

My only issue with that argument is that, if you yank a moving ship around that quickly, people are liable to fall off. Now, obviously you can't pander to everyone's little existing pet groups, but, as you well know, small groups can take lots of different forms.

My point was simply that if you have only knowledge-based or activity-based groups, which many established churches are full of (as you pointed out), challenge them to go deeper and more missional where they currently are (missional=being the Church where you are). Maybe they can't handle it and you end up ending the program right then and there.....but I should think you can give people a chance to make their existing groups more missional and spiritually deeper.

The added bonus is that people don't see the pastor/small group pastor as the human wrecking ball telling them that they now need to be in new small groups with new people when they've already got a level of intimacy with a group.

I agree that the simple church model is fantastic goal for streamlining discipleship, but forcing it on people suddenly, rather than over time, has the potential to be very divisive simply because it is an unknown.

Participant

Oh no, don't get me wrong I would never be a wrecking ball guy. My "chuck 'em" comment may have been a bit too harsh. But I would make sure that any new group started would be discipleship, missional focused. The problem I have found in almost every established church I've consulted with or have talked with leaders there is extremely poor coaching, training or none at all. People become disenfranchised with church programs and especially small groups because of it.

The CRC suggested the Principle Based small group model for years, which has turned out to be a big problem especially when leaders are not coached or trained effectively to make sure people are moving forward to something deeper. The idea was that these groups would intentionally direct people toward a deeper group, IE. someone from a scrapbooking group would eventually join a women's bible study or join a care/share small group with their spouse. It rarely if ever happened and most of these groups really just functioned as clubs.

While you cannot force people into something deeper, with guided intentionality you are more apt to turn the ship a little quicker. I think another fair point in this discussion is to say that when the leadership is making the vision clear and living it, people begin to see that the little group/club they are doing just doesn't fit and perhaps there is something of value to a different approach. But if you have neither clear communicated vision of mission and ministry and the church leadership is not on board and you don't have effectively trained and coached small group leaders, you're sunk.

I think it's fair the choose as a small group focus to be more intentional with new groups you are starting, encourage the other existing ones to jump on board and see where things fall. My experience has shown that eventually the new focused caring and missional groups will win out because their value rises far above the rest; people begin to hear about it and want it. Of course there will be some groups that have existed since the inception of the church that will never die and that's okay, it may be part of their identity as a congregation. That's fine, but I don't think the church should put a lot of time and energy in that direction.

I think we pander people in the church way too much thus enabling them not to grow toward discipleship and are startled when we challenge them toward it.

Amen.........see, we were in agreement the whole time :)

Guide

Howdy Allen. I think many small group ministries of the past had an identity crisis. They tried to do it all. I am hearing about more churches designing small groups for discipleship and mission! God is at work through small groups in the CRC!

What small group plans have you implemented?

Sam Huizenga
Home Missions Small Group Ministry Developer

Participant

Hi Sam,

Yes, fancy meeting you here. LOL!

I agree with what you're saying. I've been thinking a lot about "Simple Church" and the three basics to what makes simple churches so effective. Loving God, loving others and serving others. Most of these churches use small groups to especially make the last two work. And it makes all the sense in the world.

As you know I'm just getting my feet wet over here in Colorado, but things are moving right along. The church was itching to get going with a more missional focus. I brought up the small group idea, which they hadn't been doing for quite a few years and the groups were so-so when they did have them. We had a kick-off event in the middle of October and committed to a seven week (including a fun night or ministry night together) semester and then reevaluate. We had four good groups who picked their own leader. I spent 3 weeks training (used a lot of video footage from smallgrouptrader.com -- FREE).

The groups went amazing. I chose to start with sermon-based groups and they took off. People really love them. They appreciate that the discussions are application heavy challenging them to really look at themselves. Our next semester starts through the Lent to Easter weeks.

We are having a group eval next Wednesday over an appreciation dinner that I am cooking for them... Gourmet don't ya know.

I've been getting a lot of calls from my fellow seminary peers who are now out in the field and have no clue what to do or where to go for small group stuff. I usually get facebooked about it and point them to you and to the resources that I use. I'm not sure how many actually contact you.

I've been doing a lot of consulting on this end.

Hey Allen,

 

Just wondering if you can recommend some resources (in print or online) for how to lead a good, disciplship based small group.

 

Thanks--I know you have tons of experience in the field and would love to get some input on how to do it from scratch.

 

 

Forbes2000

Participant

Hey Forbes,

Not sure if that's your name, but hi.

In regard to your question about discipleship small groups and starting from scratch, I've posted a new forum topic that will stay at top called Small Group Resources.  You will find, what I believe to be some of the best resources; books and websites available.  Other's may post some too.

As far as starting from scratch, I'd be happy to consult with you over the phone and email.  There are many factors that determine a person's or church's avenue for beginning a small group(s).

You can contact me through my profile. There are a number of avenues there. :-)

Blessings on your endeavors.

FYI,

Here's the link to the Small Group Resources forum topic Allen mentioned:

Small Group Resources