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Small groups
Are you church's small groups growing? (Lightstock)

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How can you tell if your small group ministry is gaining ground? What are the signs?

Can it be measured quantitatively? Or do you have to know how to measure qualitatively?

Obviously, you can measure many things quantitatively. Quantitative measurements—like how many groups you have, how many leaders and apprentices you have, and how many people you have in groups—all tell you something. The reality, though, is quantitative measurements don’t tell you the whole story.

Recently, I shared "5 Keys to Taking New Ground in 2014." In this post, I want to highlight 10 ways to know if your small group ministry is gaining ground:

1. Life-change stories begin to be more common (and have a small-group angle). This is clearly a qualitative measure, but if it’s true that the optimum environment for life change is a small group, doesn’t it make sense that as your small group ministry grows, there should be more life-change stories?

2. “One another” stories begin to be more common than complaints. Since most of the "one anothers" cannot happen in rows, doesn’t it make sense that as your small group ministry grows, you’d begin hearing more "one another" stories? And by extension, wouldn’t complaints decrease? (See also "The Primary Activity of the Early Church" and "10 Powerful Benefits of a Thriving Small Group Ministry.")

3. Your senior pastor begins to talk about his small group. Isn’t it just self-evident that people rarely do what their leader doesn’t see as important? Isn’t it just obvious that if anyone is going to champion a counter-cultural practice, it's is going to be the senior pastor? (See also "Note to Senior Pastors: Authentic Community Begins With You.")

4. Your staff and key opinion leaders begin talking about their small groups. As an extension of number three, isn’t it intuitive that a tipping point for small group ministry is somewhere between staff and the key opinion leaders of your congregation (i.e., elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.)?

5. Your website prioritizes small groups (i.e., small groups are on your home page and above the fold). There is very little qualitative analysis necessary with this one. If you have to be Sherlock Holmes to find information about small groups on your website, you can be sure that you’re not ready to gain much ground. Here’s a great example:

6. Your church’s highest-capacity leaders begin saying yes to serving as leaders of leaders (community leaders, coaches, etc.). Coaching is an essential ingredient, since whatever you want to happen at the member level will have to happen to the leader first. If you truly want to influence the leaders of groups, you’ll need a growing number of high-capacity leaders (60 or a 100-fold) to get in the game. (See also "5 Assumptions That Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.")

7. The number of people in circles gains on the number of people in rows. (See also "What’s Better? Rows or Circles?")

8. Programs that focus on learning information begin to shift toward the activities that produce life change. Have legacy programs that meet in rows delivered a learning experience? The more life-on-life activities are integrated into these programs, the greater the potential for life change. (See also "True Community? Or a Smaller Version of the Weekend Service?")

9. Requests for counseling begin to shift from predominantly church members to predominantly the friends of church members. This is a significant aspect that is often overlooked. As more of your congregation becomes part of a small group, much of what they would ordinarily seek out counseling to manage will be handled within their group.

10. There is a growing sense that people are known as more weekend attendees sit together and fewer sit alone. Again, this is intuitively obvious, isn’t it? Think about your auditorium on the weekend. How many times have you heard, “I feel like a face in the crowd,” or, “I just don’t know anyone”? A clear sign that you’re gaining ground is when you begin to hear that less frequently.

Mark Howell is the founder of, committed to helping churches launch, build, and sustain healthy small group ministries. He’s also the pastor of discipleship communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church.  

For the original article, visit

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