Monday Morning Insights

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    Euthanizing Small Groups

    Euthanizing Small Groups

    Pastor Brian Jones tells of the response he got from one 'nationally recognized' pastor when Brian told him that he hadn't figured out the whole small group thing yet.  Brian said the pastor's response was something like this:

    “Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago—small groups just aren’t working.”

    Wow.  My experience in the church is that, many times, small groups DO NOT work.  But sometimes they do.

    But, that said, even when they do, this person is right, they many times take an inward rather than outward track.

    What do YOU think?  How do you make your small group make a difference.  How do you make your small group be in the top 10% that actually create disciples (what we're all hoping to do!)

    In full disclosure, we're hosting a new small group.  Our first study is this weekend... so your input will help me much!


    You can read more of Brian Jones' story here...

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    1. Peter Hamm on Fri, February 11, 2011

      Set clear goals and understandings from the outset is the first thing that comes to mind. We had small group leader training last night (we call them “Life Groups”) and it’s a great way to get some of that DNA into people.

      People need to think in terms of growing groups (both numerically and spiritually but especially spiritually) or they will not work. I want to see what others say, too.

    2. Pastor Ian on Fri, February 11, 2011

      In our church they’re called Community Groups. If the “nationally known” pastor has statistics, then let’s hear them, otherwise, maybe he should have Pastor Brian help him out. I believe they’re vitally important in developing disciples. Is that all we do? Absolutely not, but it is a part of the process of discipleship. Can you have a small group “model” that works everywhere? No, leadership must adapt to the people who they’re trying to reach.

    3. Alberto Medrano on Fri, February 11, 2011

      The reason it doesn’t work is because it’s forced upon people. In order for it to work, people must come together naturally.

    4. Kevin Mullins on Fri, February 11, 2011

      What the “national recognized pastor” says is indisputably true in the US.  I’ve heard tell that there are places in the world where small groups are transforming people into the image of Christ (developing and discipling) but it’s not happening here in the US.  It does increase a churches chance of keeping members from straying away however…hence their popularity.  I’m a discussion/group/meeting junkie, so I love ‘em, but having seen them in operation as a pastor for the last 15 years, bottom line is….very little fruit.

    5. stvnhthr on Fri, February 11, 2011

      What is the purpose of a small group?  Many people are frustrated because their personal agenda does not line up with the purpose of the group.  If you show up only for fun and socializing and you experience a place where spiritual maturity and discipleship is expected you will be at odds.  Now a good small group is fun and there will definitely be a lot of socializing going on, but the real goal is a deeper relationship with Jesus.  So make the goal implicit at the beginning.

      Because Christianity is expected to be not just an individualís personal faith but something experienced also in group settings it can be highly uncomfortable for newbies to a group.  The idea of meeting with strangers to discuss our spiritual lives is an awkward scenario to be sure.  We are a highly private society and it takes guts and concentrated effort to let our guard down and let others really know us. 

      Just keep the focus on Jesus.  It will make some uncomfortable, but that is okay; Jesusí presence has a way of doing that.  Acknowledge that doing a small group is very counter cultural in this day and age and it may seem odd at first.  Assure them it isnít a religious talent show where the more mature believers get to show off, but it is an opportunity to learn to serve each other and make others feel welcomed.

      Full disclosure, Iíll be at Toddís small group this weekend.  Iíve already let him know Iím a bit of talker and it is alright to reel me in by using our super secret code word.  Iím not going to tell you what it is, but letís just say I hope no one brings ďw-a-t-e-r-m-e-l-l-o-nĒ as a snack.

    6. Andy McAdams on Tue, February 15, 2011

      Small groups accomplish exactly what they are formed for.  Support, prayer and study.  But the reality is that to one discipleship stands a better chance of making disciples.  Some studies have shown that 90% of full time Christian worker were mentored (discipled) in the early days of their spiritual life.  In our church, we have small groups but the leaders of each group are responsible to see that everyone in their groups at some point go through a basic one to one discipling process.

    7. Pastor Steven on Mon, February 21, 2011

      Try convincing Dr. Paul Cho that small groups don’t work.

    8. Steve Crutchfield on Mon, March 07, 2011

      we encourage our groups to participate in weekly serving roles at the church and monthly outreach in the community.  It seems to build relationship, prayer, etc etc…and also create a culture of servanthood.  the fruit seems to be evident?

    9. Mike Watson on Mon, March 14, 2011

      Broad sweeping statements are dangerous in that they make one’s own experiences normative for a large group of people across a wide spectrum of backgrounds.  That being said, I’m fairly certain this pastor who was quoted had no intention of having his remarks broadcast to the world as universally authoritative.  Disclaimers aside, as a Small Groups Pastor, I’ll throw my two cents into the discussion.

      First, sure, lots of small groups don’t work.  However, the better question is, in each individual context, why don’t they work?  You cannot responsibly read Scripture and ignore the importance of Christian community.  The bottom line is, whether a church uses small groups, Sunday School, or some other communal structure, if that structure isn’t working, then there is a crucial facet of discipleship and leadership either being ignored or unquestioned.

      Second, what do you mean when you say you want your groups to produce disciples?  Avoid cliches and Christian buzzwords and put some distinctives down on paper for your leaders.  When they know what they should be aiming for with specific detail and measurable guidelines, then you’ll start getting somewhere.  Small group leaders have full lives and responsibilities outside the 5 hours a week they spend on small group.  They don’t have time for ethereal concepts.  If we give them something they can use, good things happen.

      Third, how integral are groups to the life of your particular church?  Being a Christian community is hard because people are hard to deal with.  Call it sin nature or whatever you want, but the demands of Christian community in a biblical sense requires a lot of work.  If the emphasis of ministry of the church allows things like accountability, transparency, and sacrificial service to be avoidable, then they will be avoided.

      If groups, whatever you call them, aren’t working, it isn’t because God doesn’t want people in community.  The reason lies in the way we go about it.  Regardless, it is a fight that is worth fighting.  Spiritual formation rarely happens in isolation - at least in my experience.

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