When I developed small group leaders in a new church plant, New Song Church, we were singularly focused on reaching 18-25 year-olds. We did all we could to make our ministry relevant. Our small groups strived to meet the needs of college-aged students and young adults who were launching their careers. I remember searching to find resources that we could use with our leaders. There were so many out there at the time but it was a struggle to find material we could use “off the shelf” (now it would be called “from your device”). I thought of all sorts of approaches from Serendipity Bible to missionally engage groups that were reaching particular college students in the area we served, to service projects or need-oriented groups. Then, I sensed the Holy Spirit wanting me to take a different approach. Instead of finding a program or curriculum, our goal would be to develop our small group leaders to think, decide, and act for themselves. Then we would coach them to lead, care for, engage missionally, multiply disciples, then leaders, and ultimately groups. This was a significant shift in my approach.
Be clear about the mission
I remember one book I asked our small group leaders and apprentices to read: Coleman’s, Master Plan of Evangelism. This laid a foundation for us to discuss the “why” behind our small groups and sharpen our vision on disciple making–e.g., to keep the main thing the main thing. This book helped us keep the purpose of our small groups clear and in front of us along the way. We had a plethora of groups, but whether it was a softball team or a Bible discussion group, the stated goals of our small groups were with the intent on making disciples.
Guard against Mission Drift
It is easy to get distracted and allow mission drift to set in with small groups. Assimilation, personal support, relationships, ministry teams, missional engagement are all good things. However, if any of these become the primary function of the small group, then we risk drifting from the mission to make disciples. Another way of saying this is to substitute the good for the best.
One of the lessons we learned during this season is that small groups are likened to the cells of the physical body. The health of the body, or church, is synergistically and independently related to the life of the cells, or small groups. This is supported by the research conducted by Christian Schwarz in Natural Church Development (1996) where he draws the correlation between church health and growth:
“If we were to identify any one principle as the most important… then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups”
Make certain you are clear on the mission of your small groups.
Coach to develop the person and leader
This is so important. People matter. The best way to develop leaders is to care for the individual. Coaching the whole person will allow the ministry to be self-sustaining. Imagine two rails of a train track: one rail represents the person and the other rail, the leadership. Both need to grow in order to multiply the group. The tension between these two will cultivate a healthy coaching relationship, grow the individuals and the small group ministry.
Here is a list of questions we often use to help us coach well. (I wish I had had these at New Song Church!) `
- What are you excited about?
- What is your greatest challenge?
- What are some practical steps you can take?
- What will you do?
- How can I pray for you?
Support and care for your leaders is essential for cultivating a disciple-focused mission for your small groups! Consistently implementing the questions above can help develop leaders that multiply.
Next week, we’ll take a deeper look into training small group leaders by modeling a process for them to emulate within their groups.