As a new believer in Jesus, it was in a small group where I first began to significantly grow in my faith. Through the relationships that I made, I learned what life in a Christian community could be. Honestly, it was a little taste of heaven. I learned how to pray, study the Bible, share my faith and fail. I don’t know where I would be today without my small group.
With that said, not every group is the same. Some groups go deeper, while some are more social, and some are more outwardly focused. Hopefully your group is not proud to be a shallow small group like the one in the video below.
Whichever kind of groups your church may have, here are seven ways to help improve your small groups.
1. Create a Culture of Community
I think this boils down to a paradigm view of your church. As you think about your church ask this question: Are we a church that has small groups or are we a church of small groups? How this question is answered will determine how far you can go to create a culture of community.
A church of small groups will have five functions of the church operating in the group. There will not be competing ministries outside of the groups for these five which are: Fellowship, discipleship, ministry, mission, and worship. A church with small groups will use these groups as primarily a Bible teaching and/or fellowship groups. The rest of the five purposes will be supported by other ministries.
2. Eliminate competition with small groups
The problem that most of our churches struggle with is the problem of competition. If your church has a men’s ministry, women’s ministry, a sports ministry, etc. it will compete against your small group ministry. People only have so much time they will give to an activity or ministry, no matter what it is. They must work, go to their children’s activities, and like most everyone else, take care of the practical matters of keeping up a home and relationships.
You can build a culture that values biblical community and encourages your church members to make it a priority to be an active part of a small group. This elevates the small group beyond the competition between other ministries. The small group will be the foundation of your church’s ministry. To make this happen you will need to make an honest evaluation of your church’s calendar and budget. See if you can eliminate any activity to give more margin to your small groups.
3. Lead by example
Are you an active member of a small group? Do your church staff and leaders participate in a small group? I know it can be very difficult to be a pastor in a church and be part of a small group, but it can be done. Leading by example is essential to having your church value small groups. Don’t expect your church members to do something you are not doing yourself.
4. Hold small group events
Many churches have moved away from hosting revival services. Perhaps your church has not had a revival service in years. But there are still things that can be done to accomplish the same ends, one of these could be with small group events.
Once or twice a year, perhaps in the fall and again after the first of the year hold a small group event. Recently I attended a church mission fair. The church had more than a dozen different ministries that they support present and visible at booths in their common area. Why not have a small group fair? It could be over a weekend and begin it with some great training and role play for the different roles in small groups. Make Sunday a day to celebrate small groups and encourage everyone to seek a group at the small group fair that would be right for them.
Another way to do a small group event is to have a small group campaign. The first campaign I did as a pastor was the Purpose Driven Life Campaign. Our church did one or two other campaigns a year after that. These were very successful. The campaign is good for people that may be cautious about a long-term commitment to a group. They can just come for the campaign. It is also easier for new people to connect when starting a new campaign. Pre-packaged campaigns have a focused theme, and the resources are of good quality. It is also easy for a pastor to preach on the campaign theme, which reinforces participation in a group and unity in the church.
The last small group campaign I did as a pastor was “The Story”, which was the grand biblical narrative of creation, rebellion, promise, fulfillment, and restoration. All our small groups or Sunday School groups studied the lessons and I preached sermons themed from creation to restoration for nine months. There was also an emphasis for personal daily Bible readings with group accountability. Our church was traditional, and many were skeptical of doing this together for this long. We did it and they loved it. I’ve had people years later tell me that this time for them was when the story of Scripture made sense to them. They saw for the first time how Abraham, Noah, Ruth, David, and Jesus fit together under God’s great plan of salvation.
5. Have regular and innovative equipping
One or even the perennial problem in churches is the identification and development of great leaders. Small groups need leaders that are enthusiastic and equipped. So, leader training and leader events are a must in any church that is growing leaders. This is part of an overall leadership development process. With the availability of online meetings, you can have regular leader huddles that don’t take a lot of time. I suggest that you meet with your small group leaders every month in an online huddle and every quarter in person around a meal. Have a set of questions that you work through with your leaders that minister to them personally and then to their groups and the needs and issues they see. Make the meeting a benefit to them. Perhaps overview a lesson or give help with a mission project. Play a game and have a valuable prize to give away.
6. Each small group have their own mission
Earlier I asked you to answer this question: Are we a church that has small groups or are we a church of small groups? Whichever way you answer this question, your small groups need to have a mission. By having a mission I’m talking about a people to whom they are seeking to meet needs and share Christ. One group adopted the local Jr. High Band. They became champions for the school band and their director. Another group adopted a football team. One group adopted an older next-door neighbor. The couples’ small group met at their home every two weeks. The group began to minister to the older neighbor by cleaning her back yard, giving her rides to stores and eventually donating a car to her. She started coming over for meals with the group and eventually make a commitment to Christ and was baptized in their church gathering service.
A group having a mission that is bigger than themselves will bond them together. It will give greater meaning and purpose to the group and perhaps even to their individual lives. Having a mission makes the group outward facing. They are more likely to be joined by others, simply because everyone wants to be part of something that is doing good in the world. The small group is doing good, and the motivation behind this love infused by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I've been a fan of "missional communities" or "MCs" for years. Even though currently I do not lead a missional community, I participate in a regular meeting of MC church pastors and leaders every 3 weeks. Here's a one minute and fifty-two second video that explains the concept by Jeff Vanderstelt and his organization, Saturatetheworld.com.
7. Creative Curriculum
Consider creating curriculum for adults and youth that corresponds with your preaching series. Save it as a PDF and make it available to download off the church’s website. Take a cue from the fifth way of improving your small group and present a quick segment on how to teach this in group meetings. Do it over Zoom. Record it and make it available to your group leaders later.
You can also, let them choose their own curriculum from pre-approved recommendations for small group topics. Don’t be offended if not every group follows along with your series. Work with all the groups. But I do recommend that you or someone in leadership approve of whatever small group material they are using. If there is a cost involved, let them know that the group will be responsible for the cost if they don’t use what the leadership is recommending.
Leading a lesson in a group should be a team sport. Encourage shared leadership for each group. Everyone must start somewhere, but they don’t have to remain there.
This topic may have brought up as many questions as I have tried to provide answers. For successful small groups church-wide, there needs to be a small group champion to organize and to stay on top of it. We won’t reach perfection in this life, but we can progress. After all, being part of a small group means that all of us are broken and need help, we are moving through life together and most of the learning, laughing, and living is in the journey.