Bible-study-groupEver wonder why some small group ministries seem to steadily move to new levels of success and health while others start with a bang and go out with a whimper?

Here are five commitments that make the difference:

1. Connecting everyone to a small group is a top objective every year. By “everyone,” I mean everyone. And it’s not just 50 percent or 80 percent of the weekend adult attendance. I’m talking about 150 percent of the weekend adult attendance number! In addition, the commitment is to a small group (i.e., not a class or a Bible study that meets in rows). And it’s not about off-campus versus on-campus. It’s all about connecting to a group that includes the essential ingredients of life change. (See also "Essential Ingredients of Life Change" and "Design Your Group for Life Change.")

2. Small group membership is an essential step in the strategy. This is sometimes a little tricky but always very important. If your church features a kind of buffet or a menu with multiple options to choose from for adults (i.e., Sunday morning classes, Wednesday night classes, discipleship groups, off-campus small groups, etc.), there is a strong possibility that you’re not clearly identifying active membership in a small group as essential. (See also "A 'Plated Meal' Leads to a Church Of Groups" and "5 Ways Your Small Group Ministry Is Being Throttled.")

3. Small group ministry is designed to make disciples. If your church offers a discipleship ministry for high-achiever adults with greater commitment and more extensive expectations than mere group membership, you are likely missing the great potential of group life to make disciples. (See also "4 Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries That Make Disciples.")

4. Significant investment in leadership development is a priority. Are you budgeting significant money, staff energy and calendar time for leadership development? If you’re skimping on this commitment, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re on the path that leads to a dynamic, thriving small group ministry. "See also "Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway" and "Budgeting for the Preferred Future.")

5. The senior pastor is the primary champion/spokesperson for the small group ministry year in and year out. Are you there? Does this describe your senior pastor’s involvement? This has nothing to do with administrative involvement or behind-the-scenes planning or management. It has everything to do with living and breathing small groups as essential to life change. It has to do with the most influential person in your congregation serving as the main spokesperson. (See also "Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church Of Groups.")

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. You can read Mark’s blog at or follow him on Twitter.

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