Skip to main content

Posted in: Tangible Kingdom

Love this book, Jason. We're using it in several small groups and I know other churches that use it as THE first study for ALL small groups. Intense, but I love it.

Excellent article, Neil. All too often, we've avoided the deep difficulties involved with this topic with simple fixes (silver rings, silence, etc.). As with most things, it is the hard way, not the easy one that leads us closer to the path of Christ. I loved the line "our mission is not to satisfy our desires but to serve Christ." Its sad how rarely we bring that concept to the forefront and let it pose the tough questions to ourselves.

Great article, Marcel.

I think another thing that we don't think about enough is that a good chunk of youth ministry folks fall into the Type B personality spectrum, where many administratively-minded council members (and many senior pastors) tend towards Type A. This often results in people speaking on two different levels. Similar tendencies exist with musicians and artist-types within the church.

Learning a little about your own personality and appreciating the way other people think is key to making this type of relationship work. Its sort of like the "Five Love Languages" for pastor-youth pastor-council relations.

Love this. I find it much easier to point out what small groups are NOT than what they ARE......and this is a great start on that road. Plus, as you point out, it necessarily eliminates some groups who try to pass themselves off as "small groups".

Three Questions:

1. I notice you used no numbers.....probably intentional. I wonder if you think the 80's CRC "Care Group" model many churches still use is capable of achieving this or if a scrapping of those would be a necessary stump to grow upon.

2. At our church, we're seeking to exit the "program" era of our church and base most things out of our small groups. Do you see "programmatic" approaches to ministry as an inevitable enemy of small group development?

3. I love the "missional" element of your model, but a chicken-or-egg question for you......does a missional church create missional small groups or do missional small groups build a missional church, in your opinion?

In fact, the hymn tradition has tremendous things to offer the emerging generations—things they are really longing for and that are frequently lacking in the praise and chorus music so often marketed as “college worship.”[/quote]

While some of this article makes sense, it really highlights a few institutionalized faulty assumptions. For instance, the references to Webber and Carroll's books are roughly 10 years old and my suspicion would be that, if the research was redone, the numbers would be different due to changes in the modern worship landscape and the decreasing prevalence of the Emergent movement.

Then, there's this:

Hymns offer a fuller emotional range of expression. Hymns help us work through emotions and they cover a wider range of emotions than many modern choruses do. Although we may associate hymns with a lack of emotion and modern choruses with emotional excess at times, careful study reveals that the emotional range touched on by modern choruses is rather narrow.

Come on! Talk about scratching my pet peeves. Can we all start playing nice and stop calling modern worship songs "choruses"? For Pete's sake.......its a title with an internalized slam: "these songs aren't even real songs, only choruses". 1980 was 30 years ago!

And while some hymns do "work through emotion and cover a wide range of emotions", there's plenty with pithy, irrelevant lines in hymns. The same is true of modern worship - while there are some that are pithy texts/tunes, many are unbelievable, for instance:

"Break my heart for what breaks Yours - everything I am for Your Kingdom's cause. Show me how to love like You have loved me." -Brooke Fraser's "Hosanna"

Not yet convinced? Try this one on:

[quote=jborger]Hymns teach us the rich theology we really need.[/quote]

Really? That's quite the unwarranted, back-handed slam on modern music. Should we start with the theology of "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" or "Beams of Heaven"? I love fact, I love them a lot, but let's not get into a war of "my-songs'-theology-is-better-than-yours".

To me, the real question is this: why is modern worship so often the victim of under-handed, poorly-justified slams and why are we spending so much energy trying to convince people that "hymns are making a comeback" when we could simply be trying to resource where the Church is feeling the Spirit move? And why is it coming from our denominational leaders? ( Call me sensitive, but I'm offended by this. We on the modern side are happy to acknowledge the legitimacy of traditional worship, but it doesn't seem to be true in what's with the agenda-pushing?

Mark Hilbelink on March 3, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hey Ernie....

First, let me say that CCLI's SongSelect is the best place for 4-part modern worship songs, in my opinion, especially because you can transpose them. It should be said, however, that these are mostly just chord formations off the lead sheets (ie, taking the guitar chord and just attaching 4 notes to it - not made for actual 4-part congregational singing).

In regards to a MIDI setup with music notation software, its definitely a possibility, but may cost you more time and effort than you care to put forward.

I wonder, have you ever considered bringing in a vocal teacher who understands pop music dynamics to come teach your vocalists about harmonization in the pop/rock genre? I don't know of any modern worship bands in churches or otherwise who sing from 4-part hymn sheets/songbooks, simply because 4-part hymn-style singing is not really part of the pop/rock genre most modern worship music is written in. But no fear - harmony is still an important piece - its just often not written out as we're used to it - it is more of a learned ear-trained skill, developed over time.

One other point, I noticed in your comments here and Joyce's on the other page something about "songs should not be more than 2 pages". It seems to me that worship music has gotten a bum rap for years for being "happy-clappy" or "simple choruses", etc. (insert modern worship critique here). BUT, when bands like Hillsong United actually DO write complex worship songs (more complex than hymns, musically and lyrically, I might add), we complain that they're too long. The reality is simply that they're not MEANT to be played or sung off of 4-part hymn sheets, per the comments above.

That said, if you can make a songbook work, more power to you, brother!


The pastor should be a small group MEMBER first and foremost. Asking people to join a structure you don't participate in is not only hypocritical, it is illogical. I like NOT leading my own small group (so I can just be a person), though I can if it proves necessary.

From a professional point of view, I would say "architect", "catalyst" and "support" for your leaders.

I think as pastors (especially in more conservative traditions like our own), we're often scared to let our people lead themselves, especially when there is an element of "teaching" going on. But, if you take the mentality that you as the pastor or one of your elders has to have a hand in every small group, you'll destine your small group program to be, well, small.

Small groups are a movement of sorts and, like any good movement, require managing more on the macro level than the micro level from the chief leader ( in fact, micro-managing will stunt their growth). But movements also need something to move towards (which comes to the vision-casting capacity of the lead pastor).

Hey Ken......we do monthly meetings (conversational, but also evaluative) with all our main ministry leaders, so this may have to be tweaked some, but here's what we use (from our Worship Leader job description):

Major Points of Accountability:
1. Personal spiritual growth
2. Spiritual growth of team members
3. Commitment to excellence
a. Worship Experience Flow
b. Preparation/Communication
c. Rehearsals
d. Execution
e. Back-End Evaluation/Debreifing
4. Cultivating a creative environment
5. Marked improvement in team over time

Points for Monthly Conversation
1. Personal spiritual development
2. Spiritual development of team members
3. Professional/Social development of team atmosphere
a. How are you holding team members accountable – are there accountability issues?
4. What worked well this past month?
5. What did not work well during this past month?
6. What are the team’s overall strengths and growing edges? Have those changed this month?
7. Song Selection
a. Appropriate use of repetition (using songs often enough but not too often; new songs)
b. Signature Songs (songs only your team does to the point of memorization)
c. Pork Barrel (are you using your songs or forcing yourself to create new)
d. Use of different worship music eras (hymns, 80’s/90’s songs, 00’s songs)
e. Emotional balance (fast-paced, celebrative songs vs. slower, worshipful, contemplative songs)
f. Balance with the global Church (how many top 25 CCLI songs are you/we using?)
g. How does your song selection match our church's mission/vision/core values?
8. Personal creative growth
a. What new/different worship music have you been listening to?
b. What non-Christian music/genres have you been listening to?
c. What one new worship leader “trick” would you like to try this month?
d. Have you learned anything new musically this month?
e. Handling and processing any praise/critique from the last month.
9. Collaboration
a. Communicate series themes for upcoming months
b. Keeping tech team members up to date and working closely alongside
c. How well and how far in advance are you communicating playlist/order to your team?
10. Prayer for one another

Hey Nick.....

I often think that in most things in ministry, when our numbers drop or fluctuate highly, we need to look at ourselves first. One of the key elements in growing churches is a vibrant children's ministry. Geoff Surratt, in his GREAT book "10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing" says that our aim should be to make the hour we have with the kids "the best hour of their week". If you do that, I think kids will come. If not, it begs the question, "How do we get there." I tend to think we let ourselves off the hook a little too easily in maintaining high levels of quality and substance in our children's ministries because they are people who aren't on councils and don't have as large of a voice as other age segments of our population.

To that end, we start with a "no excuses" policy for quality - rather than see ceilings, we look for innovative ways to get our intended result. Also, resource and staff your children's ministry for the size you WANT it to be. If you resource and staff your ministry for 5-10 kids, that's the most you'll ever get. We learned that the hard way when we immediately doubled our attendance and weren't ready to deal with it from a resources/staffing standpoint. Finally, identify some churches who do children's ministry REALLY well in your community - likely young, modern-style churches, even plants. Send your volunteers there for a Sunday or two. Most churches will let you do this and pick their brains for innovative and creative ideas to hit those high quality of programming levels that make that hour "the best of the kids' week".

Can you help give us a feel for what you're trying?  What kind of people are leading it? What is your church's pastor like? What is your church's worship style like? Are young adults involved in leadership in any other areas of the church? What's your church's history with young adults? Do you have strong small group ministry? Children's ministry? Would you say your church is actively missional in your local community? WIth that in hand, we may be able to give some better advice......

Thanks, John, that helps.  You should know that any advice I give simply comes out of far more failure than success - I think that's the name of the game here.  Even the local Baptist church you speak of would probably say they tried 25 bad ideas before they hit the sweet spot.

I think, first, the differentiation between different young adult "groups" needs to be made, of which I see four major ones - single (read: not married) folks on campus (those living the "college experience"), single folks who are non-campus (working, community college, etc.), married folks with no kids, married folks with kids (obviously, single folks with kids is a reality, also).  Trying to link those all together into one group can be not only challenging, but detrimental to real growth, I think.  The challenge is, if you only have 5-10 folks in the 18-30 age range in your church and they span all 4 groups, you really lack options.

I've been in churches with good ministries to campus students, but I don't get the sense that's the group you're targeting.  And....there's lots of ministries for people with kids, so I'll just address the other two groups - non-campus singles & married folks with no kids. 

If you're dealing with married young adults, I'm finding more and more that what they crave is high-cost discipleship......we have a young marrieds small group that is busting at the seams and ready to plant group #2 after only a few months - we meet almost every week and we do one service project for every "fun" event.  There's deep study, deep accountability, deep struggling with the realities of our situations, our church's ministry, etc.  I've found that this group is willing to forgo typical "attractional things" - high-end worship, spiffy buildings, etc. for the chance to be challenged spiritually, emotionally, etc.

However, the single young adults I work with are almost the complete opposite.  Because so many things are available to them and they live very transient lives, they need that "hook" to get them to stay.  We attract a large percentage of ours through the arts - either as musicians or using creative arts in worship, etc.  We employ some of them through our after-school care program.  Certainly, we can't compete with the level of quality that many mega-churches in town can offer, but we've had good results in our small group approaches, as well.  We split the genders - one female group that has a deep focus on healing from broken situations and one male group that we call "Fight Club" that is ultra-secretive (invitation-only) and consists of an activity - poker, basketball, watching football, etc. + someone talking about a struggle with sin as we talk about deep accountability.  Then, we do events, like you're talking about.  My suggestion would be to make the events the last priority and the relationships the first.  That's the harder way to build a ministry, but I think it has more staying power.

That's some of the "how".  Problem is, churches with good young adult ministries almost always have things in their DNA that meet young adults where they are, as I'm sure you know.  Its a "feel" more than a "program".  That's the hardest and the most beautiful part of young adults at the same time.  Its monumentally difficult to get to the point where your church's authenticity, quality of ministry and missional capacity reaches out to the heart of young adults, but once you get there, your church will be the better for it, overall, I believe.  To get there, your leadership HAS to grasp where you're going.  We benefit from having a 26-year-old pastor and young adults in many key visual leadership positions (worship leader, clerk of council, etc.), but you don't need that.  One thing I would suggest to you and your leaders - look for the right people, not the right program.  Take a risk on someone that might be an innovative leader - worst thing that happens is that you're back where you started.  Identify the right people and let them shape the ministry - people aren't "right" just because they fit the age bracket - they have to have a vision for what's next.  Remember, you're not where you want to be now - so if you appoint a leader who is okay with where you are now, you will never get where you want to go.

Hope that helps.....and maybe this will, as well.  Its a cross-sectional study we did on young adults in our church as we shaped our young adult ministry (only non-married young adults):

Hey Josh.....

I'll answer 2 questions I heard you pose.......yes, I do use series (religiously?). We put quite a bit into each series (set design, video production, graphic design, website design, etc.) so doing anything less than 5 weeks gets my creative team ticked due to the pure workload requirements. Also, our people tend to show up every 2-3 weeks, so most only get 3-5 messages out of the series, anyway.......I usually go 5-7.  I'd say 7 is where I/they lose interest. I also alternate between topical and book-driven series (Ruth, Jude, Amos, etc.).

In reference to letting the congregation pick, they LOVE what we're doing right now. We're calling at "interactive" series - we've lined the sanctuary with whiteboards and I have voluntarily committed to only speaking on the questions they pose with answers from Scripture. Its led us into lots of discussions of sometimes-difficult topics like the problem of evil and homosexuality, etc.

I would defintely say that series are the way to go.....

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post