Connecting dots
Are you connecting the dots in your small-group ministry?

I love what Andy Stanley says: “Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.” If you don’t like the results you’re currently experiencing with your small groups, it’s time to start connecting some dots.

Here are five group-life dots you may not be connecting:

1. “I can’t find enough leaders.” This is most often connected to the method you’re using to identify and recruit them. Leader scarcity is almost always related to inadequate leader identification tactics.

Solution:Begin building in easier ways for potential new leaders to dip their toes in the water. Recruiting leaders first as hosts combined with a churchwide campaign is a great way to offer a six-week test drive that often results in long-term commitments.

2. “Coaching doesn’t work here.” This is connected to the way you’ve designed the coach’s role and to whom you assign coaches. The primary reason coaching doesn’t work is that the coach’s job description produces accountants who count things instead of developers who shape people.

Solution: Redesign the coach’s role to focus on development. Keep in mind that whatever you want to happen in the lives of group members has to be experienced first by the leaders of your groups.

3. “People are too busy to commit to a small group.” This is connected to two important dots: 1) the way you’ve designed the menu of opportunities and 2) the way you describe group life. The advantage of a limited menu selection is that it’s easier to provide next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic. The way group life is described is everything. When it’s described as anything less than an essential ingredient for life change, it’s perceived as nonessential and optional.

Solution: Intentionally shorten the menu and perfect the way you talk about group life (verbally, in print and on the Web). The sooner you get to the place where next steps are designed to be easy, obvious and strategic, the sooner you’ll begin to see greater commitment.

4. “Small groups don’t make disciples.” This is directly connected to the way you’ve defined a disciple and the way you’ve designed the small groups in your church. If your small-group ministry isn’t making disciples, the reason is embedded in the way your ministry is designed.

Solution: Give adequate thought to what you’re trying to produce. Carefully describe a new, preferred future. Redesign your system to eliminate any steps that don’t lead to the future you’ve envisioned.

5. “It’s not the right time.” This is connected to a lack of understanding that there is always a window closing for the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community.

“It’s not the right time” actually means:

  • We need to do a capital campaign this fall, so we’ll delay our churchwide campaign until the spring.
  • We need to lay the foundation for a healthy small-group ministry before we add new groups.
  • We need to train new leaders before we even think about starting new groups.
  • We need to build a healthy coaching structure before we add new leaders.

I often say, “Unconnected people are always one tough thing away from not being at your church.” Loss of a job. Divorce or separation. A devastating diagnosis. A child in trouble. Unconnected people are always close to the one thing that will decide their spiritual destiny. When we delay connecting opportunities, we must always have this reality in mind.

Solution:Make a commitment to the unconnected people in your congregation, crowd and community. Take your Easter adult attendance (an estimate is fine) and subtract the adults who are truly connected. What remains are the unconnected people in your crowd. Write that number where you can see it every day. Figure out the approximate number of unchurched people in your community. Write that number where you can see it every day. Then take action to bring those numbers down.

Mark Howell is the founder of and is LifeWay Christian Resources’ small-group specialist. A veteran leader with more than 25 years in ministry, Howell serves as pastor of communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas.

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