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Go Big with Small Groups
Eleven Steps to an Explosive Small Group Ministry
By Bill Easum, John Atkinson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2007 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
THE NEED FOR CONNECTION
People are more disconnected today than ever before. What happened to the Ward and June Cleaver world where community and family was the very core of life? What happened to the neighborhoods of the 1950s where everyone on the street knew one another? What happened to the neighborhoods where kids would run and play without the fear of the kinds of things that feed a parent's worst fears?
The Situation: We're Disconnected
People were safer because they were connected to everyone. In times past we not only knew our neighbors but were also more of an active part of the community. What happened to the relationship parents had with their children's teachers, coaches, and principals? Why don't we know the local grocer or the local police officers anymore? What happened to the days when communities came together to celebrate with one another, care for one another, live life together, and protect one another?
You can probably add ten more "why's" that we haven't thought of, but you get the point. What happened to community?
We saw community happen during the weeks following 9/11. People from all over the U.S. came together in a display of community. But look at the U.S. now, just a few years later. We're once again a disconnected, fragmented nation. What was it about 9/11 that changed the way we acted toward one another, and if it can happen during a time like that, why doesn't it happen every day in our communities?
Community happened because we became connected. The events of 9/11 forced us to love our neighbors more than ourselves and reminded us that we are the community of the United States of America. The question now becomes, how do we stay connected? Clearly in the right situation community can happen. So then what are we doing or not doing that keeps community from happening every day?
In today's world people can live disconnected from others even while attending and serving in church.
We believe the problem starts with our families. Husbands and wives are becoming more disconnected. Most husbands and wives spend at least five days a week in the work environment separated from each other. If that much of our lives is spent apart then it is only natural for each person to build relationships apart from one another. Companies used to address this by having barbeques and parties to make sure their employees stayed connected. Unfortunately, that's pretty much a thing of the past. Since the two work experiences exist apart from each other, the situation creates a disconnection.
What about our kids and school? Remember when it seemed like we all went to one big school? It wasn't unusual for parents to know all the teachers and most of the kids. Today it's not unusual for each child in the family to go to a different school. It's almost impossible to create any relationships with the people at those schools because you're never there long enough before you head to your next stop.
What about the outside activities your kids do? How about the mom who has three or four kids and each one is involved in a different sport or school activity? She runs from one game, practice, or function to another, barely having enough time to get from place to place, much less enough time to build some lasting relationships at any of them.
What about our church lives? Unfortunately, in far too many cases Christians show up for church each weekend, sing, listen to a message, then head out to find Sunday lunch. They are hearing the Word of God, but are they really becoming a part of the church? Are they building Christ-centered relationships that extend outside the doors of the church?
How many men in the churches of today have other Christian men helping them grow and holding them accountable? Not enough. If those men aren't finding Christian fellowship, then they are most likely finding the other kind of fellowship, which usually leads down the wrong path.
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be involved in things at church. They are building relationships through their involvement in the church, and that's great. But do their husbands and children know one another? Do these relationships exist outside of the church walls or the ministry in which they are serving?
But what about the men's groups that meet for breakfast and talk about things that men need to talk about? Do these men's wives and children know one another? Please understand that both of these things are wonderful and very much needed, but we question whether they create a community in the church.
Many Christians go to church every weekend and serve in the ministry that their hearts are drawn to. This is fantastic and churches couldn't run on weekends without the servant hearts of these fine people. But is this creating community? People can live their lives disconnected from others even while attending and serving in church if they're not careful.
Small Groups Are the Solution
So what do we do? Do we just accept things as they are and move on with our lives? Unfortunately, many people believe that's just the way things are, and they accept the status quo. We aren't willing to do that. So let's talk about the solution to our lack of community.
To put it simply, small groups are the church's solution to our disconnected lives.
Small Groups Provide Fellowship
Fellowship is one of the solutions to our disconnected world. The Bible is full of scripture that says we need fellowship. First John 1:7 says, "But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." The Bible says we need fellowship. So what is fellowship?
The biblical definition of fellowship comes from the Greek word, koinonia, which means, "putting good deposits into one another." That definition implies that we have to be giving something to each other or pouring ourselves into each other's lives for fellowship to occur.
Many people believe that coming to church each weekend fills both the worship and fellowship roles. But if you look at the word "fellowship" as the Bible uses it, you see that it takes far more to meet the biblical standard of fellowship than visiting with people at church or going to lunch together after church. Biblical fellowship can only happen through real community where people pour their lives into one another.
So where can we get the biblical fellowship and community we have been talking about? At most of the thriving congregations in the U.S. you find all of this through small groups that meet in homes. Small groups are groups of no more than fifteen people that meet weekly or biweekly in homes throughout the community, sharing life together through a combination of fun, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer. A healthy and growing small group ministry will unite and connect your church in amazing ways.
Small groups are groups of no more than fifteen people that meet weekly or biweekly in homes throughout the community, sharing life together through a combination of fun, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer.
Most of the fast-growing, dynamic churches see small groups as an important part of their future growth because they are a great way to make sure their church stays connected relationally and continues to grow at the same time. Small groups may not grow a church, but nothing does more to retain the people who do attend worship over the long haul than effective small groups that provide community.
Small Groups Share Life Together
Fellowship is about sharing life together. Sharing life together means you belong to a group of people you know you can count on, and who can count on you, no matter what struggles you face. These kinds of relationships won't happen at worship.
When your congregation begins to share life together you will see the heart of your church change as your people begin to serve in ministries, sacrificially give of their financial resources, and care for one another. Not to mention you are building the largest pastoral care machine in existence. Small groups become the first line of personal care for the hurts and needs of the people in your church. People should join a small group before they need one.
Small groups should be about the application of God's Word to our daily lives through fellowship and discussion. When this happens real relationships are built. When you take relationships and multiply them like this you begin a domino effect, which will then end up in other areas of your church and spill out into the community. When this kind of connectedness happens, people begin to feel like the church is their church and not the church. When people begin to call the church their church, you really see the domino effect as people begin to serve in a ministry. When these same people start serving they create another new set of relationships in the church body.
Can you begin to see what can happen in your church through the relationships built in small groups? Small groups become a catalyst for a relationally connected church, ministry volunteers, and the leaders you will need to take your church to the next level.
Small Groups Change Lives
Simply put, small groups change lives better than any other ministry in the church. Listen to John's personal story of how God worked in his life through small groups.
If it were not for the Hometeam ministry (small group ministry) at Bay Area Fellowship I don't believe I would have found my calling to ministry. I went to my first Hometeam about three months after I started attending our church. I was always a person who thought I could do it alone and was not thrilled about the idea of opening up to a room full of strangers. I probably would not have gone to a Hometeam if not for the encouragement of my friends Bill and Cathy. They made sure there was no way I could say no. When I said no, Cathy asked me if I were chicken, and gave that little cluck-cluck sound that she knew would hit me right in my prideful gut.
Small groups become the incubator in which new Christians are bathed in love and care until they blossom.
They took me to a group led by a wonderful couple named Clint and Liana. This was a mixed group with three singles and four couples. I remember so clearly how welcomed I was made to feel. This was not a contrived welcome; it was genuine and not based on anything other than they were just glad I had come to the group. That group was the first tool God used to begin to lead me to the ministry.
The same Cathy who invited me to that Hometeam was also the person who invited me to Bay Area. So I am in the ministry because of her obedience to God. A couple of years later I became the interim children's pastor, and I hired Cathy to be my children's church coordinator. Later, I promoted her to children's director, and then she was promoted to children's minister by our lead pastor, Bil Cornelius. God worked this entire plan out through Clint and Liana's Hometeam.
Small group ministry is a team effort in which every person in the church committed to the vision works toward its success.
Small Groups Are God's Plan for the Church
Let's look at another example of scripture that supports why your church needs a healthy and growing small group ministry.
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
The earliest Christians met in the Temple for their corporate worship experience, but then they would go to homes and continue to study and fellowship together. Worship and fellowship are separate experiences. Small group worship is never meant to replace your weekend service; it is meant to help make it better by supporting it. These are different parts of a walk with God, and when done right, make both parts better.
The Apostle Paul talks about his meetings in homes as well.
When they arrived he declared, "You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord's work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of turning from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus." (Acts 20:18-21)
Even the Apostle Paul, with his enormous ministry, still found time to go to people's homes for fellowship. The same should be true today of any leader of a small group system. It's amazing what happens when the leaders drop into a home group. It lets people know a pastor really cares about their group.
Before Moving Forward
One word of caution: Before you do anything, decide what your small groups are going to look like. It's critical that you build a small group ministry that is designed to reach into the mindset of the people who live in today's society. One of the biggest failures in small group ministries we've seen is they're patterned after antiquated models of modernity that worked well for past generation. This is a new generation of people who see the world in far different ways than our parents saw things. Don't assume you know what the mindset of today's society is. If need be, spend time researching these new generation before you get started. For suggestions see the endnote.
The key is to be culturally relevant and biblically sound.
We hope this chapter has shed some light on the benefits of a healthy small group ministry in your church. Not only will small groups relationally connect your church, but they will spill out into other areas too, such as giving and volunteers. If you feel like God is speaking to your heart, read on and we will share the nuts and bolts of how to actually begin the process of starting a new ministry or growing the existing ministry you have.
Now to the actual step-by-step process of beginning a small group system that multiplies and experiences explosive growth.
Use your imagination and think about what God can do to change lives through your small group ministry.
How many families attend your church?
How many singles attend your church?
How many of these people are connected to the church in some way other than the weekend service?
How many have no connection except the weekend service?
In the past, most people came to church with some form of church background. That's not the case today. Most people under the age of forty have not grown up in church. Without a foundation people usually won't begin to really worship and search for God until they feel accepted. We see it all the time as you see people move from the back row, where they were able to remain anonymous, to the front row, where they are beginning to change because they've made friends.
A healthy small group ministry must be designed to meet people where they are so they have a chance to begin to see hope again. People are coming, whether they know it or not at the time, to find relationships. Since we know that relationships are what people are seeking, we have created a ministry designed to fill that need.
Our antiquated systems no longer work. They weren't designed to reach people with little or no Christian experience in their lives. They were designed for people who came from a world where there was structure and absolutes. They were great models that worked well in their time, but like music, they need to change or we will lose a whole generation.CHAPTER 2
THE FIRST STEPS ARE CRUCIAL
Step One: Bring the Lead Pastor on Board
Step Two: Convince the Powers That Be
The ground work is over. Our goal now is to assist you in the birth or growth of your small group ministry. We want to make this so simple it can't fail. So don't skip a step throughout the rest of the book
Step One: Bring the Lead Pastor on Board
Both of us have had a lot of opportunities to work with pastors and leaders who are looking for help to get a small group ministry going. And one thing stands out: if the lead pastor isn't personally involved in the small group ministry and doesn't support it from the pulpit, small groups never reach their potential. We've never seen an exception! The church may become a church with a few small groups, but it never becomes a church of small groups. The participation of the lead pastor is the single most important thing you must have if you are going to have a strong small group ministry. It is your job as small group pastor or leader to get your lead pastor on board before doing anything else. You can talk about small groups all day, but it doesn't have the same impact as it does when your pastor talks about it once during worship. (Of course, if you are the lead pastor and the small group leader you must have the same level of commitment.)
Excerpted from Go Big with Small Groups by Bill Easum, John Atkinson. Copyright © 2007 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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