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The First Step Towards a High-Performing Small Group Ministry

The First Step Towards a High-Performing Small Group Ministry

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when it comes to either launching or reengineering a small group ministry is a failure to carefully align both vision and methods. The result is often a ministry that functions much like an automobile with its front tires badly out of alignment. While it can still get down the road, the ride is way too bumpy and the tires wear out way too quickly.

That’s why I always encourage pastors and church leaders to work through a series of five key “alignment” questions before launching or reengineering their small group ministry.

I’ve used the five questions with church planters, seasoned pastors, small churches, and megachurches. The results are always the same. When carefully worked through, they will practically guarantee a small group ministry that performs well, one that not only aligns vision and methods but also fits the underlying philosophy of discipleship, the unique cultural context, and the ministry DNA of the church. Here is the first question.

Who Are You Trying to Reach?

“Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”

Too often the initial answer is, “We want everyone to be in a group.”

But not everyone will be in a group. It’ll never happen. Based on how your groups are organized and what you do in them, some people will come and some won’t. Aiming at everyone guarantees that you have targeted no one.

Every programmatic decision we make loses someone and draws someone else. That’s why a big part of deciding who we’ll reach is choosing — ahead of time — who we’re willing to lose.

To identify the different options, imagine a funnel that starts with everyone at the top. Below, in a narrower part of the funnel, is a smaller subset made up of all those who have an interest in spiritual things. Farther down are those who go beyond spiritual interest to actively seeking God. Next are those who actually turn to Christ, followed by those who take their spiritual growth seriously. Toward the bottom you’ll find a still smaller group of folks who might be described as being on fire for God, ready to charge hell with a water pistol. Finally, popping out at the bottom is the smallest group yet: leaders.

After explaining this funnel, I always ask pastors and church leaders, “Which of these groups do you want to reach the most?”

Notice that I don’t ask, “Which group should you want to reach the most?” That only tells me their level of political correctness.

I often have to push back a little here to be sure I’m getting a heartfelt vision rather than one that’s driven by political correctness. I’ve learned that people whose hearts are bent toward raising up high-impact leaders sometimes tell me they’re committed to reaching seekers. They don’t want to sound like they’re cold to the Great Commission. Meanwhile others with great gifts and passion for evangelism tell me they’re all about discipleship and growing people deeper.

My bias is that no particular emphasis is more God-pleasing than another. While the larger body of Christ must be focused on the entire spectrum of people, no one individual or single church is called or gifted to reach everyone or do everything. It’s neither possible nor biblical.

For instance, at North Coast my personal vision has always been that every Christian in our church needs to be velcroed to significant relationships. I see it as the way spiritual growth best happens and the most powerful way to make our church sticky.

Right or wrong, that’s my paradigm.

It explains why I don’t mind when those who are merely spiritually interested find our groups to be too demanding or when most seekers wait until they’ve stepped over the line to follow Jesus before joining one of our groups.

Same goes for any longtime Christians who insist that our groups need to go deeper. It’s easy for me to resist the changes they want, because to do what they want would drive away everyone farther up the funnel — including many of the people I feel called to reach. My personal calling is not primarily to those who are already mature. While I care for them and want to see them mobilized for God’s kingdom, they are but a subset of a larger group I want to reach.

That’s my vision and North Coast Church’s calling. In contrast, the sweet spot of your calling and vision might be a very different place on the funnel. What’s important is that your leadership team is in agreement as to who you most want to be in your small groups. Until you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty hard to design a ministry to reach them.

—Larry Osborne, Sticky Church. Sticky Church will introduce you to four other key questions that will help you launch, or re-launch, an effective small group ministry.

How to Use This Book

Sticky Church is your practical guide for rebuilding a more effective ministry. If you want your ministry to grow, don’t just open your front door wider: close the back door. Larry Osborne shows you how in Sticky Church. In this time-tested strategy, sermon-based small groups dig deeper into the weekend message and tightly velcro members to the ministry.