A lot of church leaders that I coach ask for help because their small groups are all over the place. The issue, essentially, is central control of groups. To what degree can the leadership get all of the groups on a similar track? Can/should they create a consistent culture directed by leadership of the church? In some cases, the groups are already all different and disconnected from the leadership of the church. What can they do about that with regard to shaping group culture, values, and structure? Here are my thoughts.
Examine the why
First, examine your reasons for wanting to standardize all of the groups. What will it accomplish? If any of the goals are 1) easier oversight for you, 2) creating a pipeline of church volunteers, or 3) allowing you to micromanage, think again. Groups are living organisms, like children. Each one is different and needs nurturing tailored to their own uniqueness. Small groups are not there to serve the church or the leadership; they are there to serve the people within them and challenge them towards love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Not every group needs to do the same thing. Sometimes different groups have sprung up to meet diverse needs: processing groups, community groups, season-of-life groups, etc. Many of them have existed forever and it’s extremely challenging to genetically reengineer existing groups. It’s actually much harder than having no groups at all. So generally speaking, if they resist your attempts to change them, leave the alone. Some of them might be fine and are currently helpful to those who are in them. Others may not be good or healthy, but—given their resistance to change—you can’t do much about this.
From a pastor, after visiting a wide range of different small groups in her church:
“Every time I visited groups, whether they were just getting off the ground or had been around for years, the one thing that stood out every time was how different they all were from each other. They all had distinct personalities and “vibes.” Even when the material was the same, the groups felt different. And it wasn’t a better-worse thing—just different. The facilitators, and consequently the groups, had different spiritual-gift mixes and different personalities.” –Finding the Flow: A Guide for Leading Small Groups and Gatherings.
2 ways to get your small groups on track
1. Start new groups
If you want new groups with new DNA, start new groups with new DNA. Launch a pilot group for potential leaders who are interested and branch out from there, allowing the new groups that grow from that pilot group to influence other groups. Be sure to invite any existing leaders in case they want to participate in the pilot group, but do so without disrupting their current group.
2. Coach your leaders
Reward current leaders with intentional coaching if they are open to it. In doing this, you’re investing in their personal leadership development combined with providing a relational reward and connection for leading a group. And remember: coaching is not “one more thing” adding to burnout, but what prevents burnout.
Finding the Flow Small Group Leader Training– Authors Tara Miller and Jenn Peppers believe that people are too smart for “how-to” manuals and “data dump” training sessions. Experience has taught them that training should be very interactive. This downloadable kit has everything you need to train small group leaders.
Leadership Skills Guides– The best leaders in your future won’t come to you ready-made, they will be people you develop. God has placed people in your congregation that he has called to do great things and you are there you help them along the way. These guides help you meet people where they are at and guide them to grow in the skills they will need to do what God has called them to do.