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Questions to ask when considering a small group strategy: Part 1

At Covenant Life Church, where I have the privilege of serving, the church leadership has continually affirmed that true discipleship and life change normally takes place in the context of relationships. That conviction has evidenced itself in many ongoing conversations about the role of small groups in our discipleship strategy and has made it front-burner topic for me. And then, just last week, I spoke with an old friend who just recently accepted a role as Pastor of Small Groups and is tasked with building a small group infrastructure in his church. At his request, I offered to assist him in any way I can thinking through small groups in his context.

What resulted are 10 initial topics and questions that I believe must be asked for a church as it reflects on small group strategy. The first five are here, the second five will be discussed in tomorrow’s post. As an aside, these are in no way ordered by priority, but rather by the way they came out as I was writing them.

  • Place in discipleship strategy: What is the discipleship strategy of the church? And where do small groups fit? For some churches, it is the discipleship strategy. They are looking to get everyone in a group as the primary way that they will be discipled. For others, Sunday School or “Life on Life” type environments are the primary discipleship tool and small groups are supplements. A clear answer on this is, I believe, one of the more critical questions a church must clarify in the processing of planning a small group strategy. At the end of the day, small groups are a means, not an end. The end is raising up radical disciples of Christ. Small groups are a great strategy for that. But knowing where small groups fits in the equation of raising up disciples will help you discern where to push and where to back off.
  • Church goal on involvement: Has the church leadership articulated a specific goal regarding involvement in small groups? It’s easy to say “we want everyone in a group,” but that type of statement often requires a radical reorientation of ministry philosophy and programming that many churches (and the individuals who attend) are not ready for.
  • Kids: Will the church provide childcare for groups? This is a very pragmatic question that comes up in every small group conversation I have. What do we do with the kids? Personally, I love having my kids at the small group I lead. I think they get to see men and women that I want them to look up to, and they get cared on in awesome ways. But, honestly, I think I am in the minority there. Many people look forward to their small group as their “adult time” and don’t want kids around. Thus, childcare becomes a consideration. A clear answer up front regarding childcare is essential.
  • Definition of small groups: What counts as a small group? Is it necessarily a co-ed group meeting weekly in someone’s home for coffee, dessert and a Bible study from now until Jesus comes back? Or does a group of guys that meet weekly and study James for 30 minutes before playing basketball for the next 2 hours count as a small group? Could groups meet on the church campus or not?
  • Objectives of small groups: What is the purpose of a small group? What exactly do you expect to happen there? Is it primarily fellowship? Bible study? Community outreach? Is it some combination or something else entirely? Articulating what you want to happen will shape what actually does happen in those small groups.

So there are 5 of the 10 initial considerations that I would want to explore in any conversation regarding small groups. Check back tomorrow for the other 5, including the relation of small groups to the preaching and leadership development.

For further reading, I highly recommend Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groupsby Nelson Search and Kerrick Thomas.


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