Choosing a small group model. Just say no.

When researching various models of small group organization and structure, many pastors adopt a model before they have started their first group. What's wrong with this?

1. It puts the visionary's focus on a structure, not the member's values that make just about any small group structure work great. Frankly, if one's members are reaching the lost and discipling them successfully, any small group structure will work well.

2. The structure chosen in advance cannot take into account the actual and ongoing needs of the ministers (members) in the groups, making them feel as if they're a new cog in someone else's clockworks from the beginning.

3. Choosing a structure in advance promotes a false sense of security, which keeps pastors from experimenting with or prototyping various models before deciding upon one.

The smart pastor ignores the hype around the models written about or those featured in mega church conference plenary sessions. He focuses on developing a healthy biblical community that experiences the presence, power, and purposes of Christ. Out of this, he will see what leader to coach ratio will be most profitable for his church at that time in ministry.

A great illustration to drive home this point would be buying a suit out of a mail order catalog. The model looks great wearing it, but everyone knows it's gonna look horrid on you once you take it out of the box and try it on. A man's suit needs to be tailored to fit properly, doesn't it?

Don't wear other church's clothing. Develop your first groups, invest your time ensuring they're healthy and growing, and then add the support they need in the way of training leaders and inserting coaches over groups. Your model will then be your model, not another church's model you tried to replicate poorly.

If you must replicate something from another church, figure out how they disciple new believers into spiritual maturity and make it work with a handful of members. When you refine this, you'll be well on your way to a successful small group ministry.


Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with you about organically growing small groups.

But there is some value in having a model in mind when starting out. I can see a pastor studying several models and then sensing God's leading to purse one of the models.

Or perhaps because of personality and giftedness, a pastor is drawn to one model over others.

Such a pastor could then make decisions with a blueprint in mind (prayer being critical, of course).

Having a model could also make it easier to share the vision with leaders or potential leaders.

But I can see you main point --- a leader should let the ministry develop out of needs and situations without inflexibly show-horning the structure into a pre-determined model.

Anonymous said...

I think that models are good for learning from, but you should learn the principles behind the model and why it works well in the context that it has been plucked from. Then you can apply what you have learnt from the model to your church context.

Don't adopt models holus bolus(especially if you don't really know what you are doing). It's a quick recipe for negative church growth. Adapt from them, once you have an idea that the bits that you are targeting might actually work in your context! If in doubt, go slow! (And maybe get some advice).

I remember the first time I ran into a church that operated by adapting from various cell church models. I asked what model they used. I was told they used the G3 Five by Five mongrel bitser Jethro model. Funny thing was that it seemed to be working for them.

Randall's post has also brought up a related issue that drives me insane. That is how organisations learn (particularly churches). Churches don't learn organisational/how to do things/processes type of stuff very well.

If some of the practices that pastors used implement change were replicated in the business world those responsible would be fired! - maybe even prosecuted for breaking the law in some scenarios. (Number one sin I reckon is trying to implement change without proper consultation - too many diktatorial pastors out there). Well actually the way alot of churches are structured invites that sort of behaviour. Anyway Randall's blog is not the right place to discuss change management for churches and whether churches learn from their mistakes! I might have to start my own blog soon....

Randall Neighbour said...

Don, from my vantage point, I see pastors latching onto a model and they vision cast a model, not the values that drive that model or just about any other model.

When a pastor casts a vision for X groups, being overseen by X coaches, and the groups are men's and women's groups (or whatever type he decides the church should adopt)...


Casting a vision for every member a minister, reaching friends and family for Christ with others in the midst of a Biblical community, and growing in their spiritual maturity and faith...

Do you see what I'm driving at? Pastors must avoid casting vision for a structure because it ends up being a vision that is "if I build it, they will rise to the occasion of ministry within it" kind of thing.

Structure's important, and it should be added as the member's values reflect a need for more of it.