There are far more mistakes that pastors make in small group ministry, but here's my top five in order of urgency...
5. Choosing an oversight model in advance of a launch, based on wishful thinking, not actual needs.
This mistake seems to afflict pastors in the cell church world more than the small group world, who has yet to wake up and see the need for coaches over groups and leaders (that's another blog post altogether!). You've no idea how many times I've been called by a lead pastor for consulting and he begins the conversation with, "I've just finished reading about the Groups of 12 model and we're going that direction and I need some advice about your resources for training leaders..."
Wow. So much was stated and not stated in that statement! This guy has latched onto the most difficult oversight structure to pull off in the history of the cell movement, requiring every single person involved to be a soul-winning disciple maker from day one. Plus, he should be asking about member discipleship processes, not leadership materials, but that's covered below.
Pastors, don't choose an oversight model until you have three groups under you and you can see what they need as far as support goes. This will keep your mind in the ministry and not prematurely in structural thinking that's usually lofty and theoretical in the first months or year of small group ministry if you are growing it organically and not launching dozens of groups initially.
4. Thinking that holistic small groups or cell groups will magically transform consumers into producers.
It's absurd to think that parking your Toyota Corolla at the Ferrari dealer's lot will transform it, right? Same thing goes for small groups. Herd a bunch of self and child-focused pew warmers in groups and they'll do absolutely nothing for God or one another, just like they are doing without groups. Some will rise to the occasion for sure, but don't expect most of them to turn over a new leaf just because you gave them a new environment in which to live like a selfless Christian.
People need experiences to bring them out of consumerism. Meet them where they are, not where you think they should be or you want them to be.
3. Thinking weekend attendance and small group involvement is all the discipleship you need to offer.
Small groups are a great place to facilitate relational discipleship for sure. But if you don't have a pathway to spiritual maturity in place before you start groups, don't expect group members to start it after they join a group. Discipleship must be embedded into the DNA of your church with clear personal goals for growth supplied by the disciples themselves, not your education minister or small groups guy. If this is in place and has been fully adopted by the membership of your church, small groups will really support this effort. Groups alone won't disciple anyone though. Same thing goes with your sermons. Discipleship is far more than meeting attendance. It's an intentional, life-long personal decision supported by the local church's services and groups.
2. Casting a structural vision and making public goals for numbers of groups by a certain date.
I really hate it when I see a pastor get up and pronounce that the church leadership has established a goal of having 800 groups by January, 2012 or some other lofty number. There's nothing wrong with anticipating growth and setting private goals to develop X numbers of new leaders by a certain date, but turning this into a "visioncasting moment" for the congregation is really foolish. People don't care how many groups your church has at the moment, and if they think your main priority is a number they will rail against it. Cast a vision for a lifestyle of servanthood and community involvement and report on how many groups are springing up because of the lifestyle of the members.
1. Telling people to get in a group from the pulpit instead of consistently sharing how group life is transforming you.
It seems most pastors I know have only learned one small group thing from Rick Warren, one of my personal heroes in ministry. That one thing is how often he tells his church members they need to be in a small group. While he does this every weekend and most every time he finds a microphone, this is not what makes so many people at Saddleback join a small group in my opinion.
Saddleback's lead pastor consistently shares his personal growth and ongoing small group experiences of how he has served along side other group members in the neighborhood, been served by members, and experienced Christ's presence when his group meets together. His sermon content flows out of his time with God alone AND his time with other believers in biblical community. If you focus on being a small group member as much as you focus on being a lead pastor, you too will share the powerful stuff that makes people want to follow your footsteps, not just your words.
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