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It's Time to Get Brutally Honest About Small Groups

  • Name
    Mark Howell
How honest are you about your own small group ministry? You know…about how things are going…really? Are you brutally honest? In his best-selling book Good to Great, Jim Collins introduced the “discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” “You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts. The good-to-great companies operated in accordance with this principle, and the comparison companies generally did not.” Today I want to talk about a very important step in the preferred future process. Just as important as identifying and describing your preferred future, being honest about how things really are today is absolutely essential. Only with real honesty, brutal honesty, can you begin to design the strategies that will help you get from where you are (your present) to where you want to be (your preferred future).

Brutal Honesty About Your Present

Sounds harsh. Brutal even. But without an honest evaluation of right now, you can’t possibly build an exponential system. So how do you evaluate your present? What are you looking for? Here are some of the questions I use: First, Is group life promoted year-round as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth? So that we’re clear, here’s what I mean about each of these terms:
  • Group life must be a life-on-life activity. It can’t be a purely educational experience. It’s about interaction. Can it happen on Sunday a.m. in a classroom setting? It can, but it will take work to create the right environment there. At the same time, it takes work to create the right environment in a living room.
  • Group life must be promoted. By promoted I mean talked about, highlighted, mentioned and referred to. It needs to happen in your pastor’s messages, in announcements, in testimonies, on your website, your e-newsletter, and your bulletin or program.
  • Group life must be promoted all the time, not once a season or when it’s recruiting time, and certainly not in a kind of rotating emphasis where equal time is given to every ministry or program. This is a very important question about where you are right now. Without year-round promotion, you can’t get to exponential.
  • Group life must be seen as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth. From a practical standpoint, it really needs to be seen as one of a very few essential ingredients. What are the others? Gathering for corporate worship and serving in a gift-based, passion-driven ministry. You’ll have difficulty getting to exponential if there is much there beyond those three.
How are you doing so far? When you evaluate the way things are right now in your ministry, is group life promoted year-round as an essential ingredient of spiritual growth? The next diagnosis question is: How obvious is the path to connect with a group in your system? In other words, once I begin hearing about how essential group life is, will my next step be obvious? Can I see it prominently promoted on the website? Can I walk out into the lobby right after service and see what to do? Is the next step obvious? Next, how easy is the first step? Can I take a baby step? Or do I have to be a world record long jumper like Carl Lewis? An example of easy is a six-week test-drive on a timely and broadly engaging topic. An example of a difficult first step is Experiencing God or The Truth Project. Great studies, but at 12 to 14 weeks are too long for a first step. Last, does the first step lead to a next step? This is a very important part of getting to exponential. It’s not that every group must survive or every person who joins continues. It’s that you’re doing what you must to build in the greatest possibility of survival.

A Truly Brutal Diagnosis

A thorough diagnosis of your present would include an honest conversation about much more. There would be questions about the legitimacy of your coaching efforts. You’d have to assess whether you are truly making disciples or simply connecting people? You would have to look deeply into the reasons you’ve connected some but not others. A thorough diagnosis of your present would also include a careful look at all the elements that effect small group ministry. For example, what does communication look like in your church? How effectively do all of the communication ingredients work together to present a clear sense of the next step you want unconnected people to take? Are you presenting a pathway that is easy, obvious and strategic? Or are you really pointing unconnected people to a confusing buffet? While communication is an important element to diagnose, there are many others. Here are a few more:
  • How committed is your senior pastor to the role of small group champion?
  • How confusing is your current menu of connection and discipleship options?
  • How adequately are you resourced for small group ministry? When you look at staff, budget, room allocation, lobby presence and website presence can you tell that small group ministry is a priority? Or are you really prioritizing everything and nothing at the same time?

Your Next Step

Your next step is to pull together a conversation about how things really are right now in your ministry. You’ll need the right people around the table. It will take time. You’ll have to be honest. But here’s the thing. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can get to exponential from just anywhere. You need to rearrange the way things are today if you want to get somewhere different tomorrow.