Discussing Small Group Ministry Expansion

These are my notes from a meeting this evening at our church, discussing ways to expand our small group ministries.

Historically, we have had multiple movements in our church to support and emphasize small groups
– care rings small groups
– covenant groups
– journey groups
– discipleship groups
– men’s discipleship groups

Many of these groups have needed more administrative support than the church staff could support
– now we don’t have any directors of small group ministries
– we are going down from 4 to 3 ordained pastors
– so these small group ministries need to be simpler, not as administratively intense

So before imposing staff thinking on the congregation, we decided we should have some conversations with congregation members, especially those who have been small group leaders in the past

Questions to answer at our tables:

1. Reflecting on your entire experience with small group ministry at FPCE, remember when you were the most engaged, involved, and motivated. Who was involved? What part did you play?

2. What aspect(s) of small group ministry contributed most to your spiritual growth and health? What have been the most important components of small groups for you?

3. What are you three greatest hopes for small group ministry at FPCE?

Responses from different table groups on these questions:

– Journey, Renewal, Covenant, prayer, long term, Bible studies, Bible/Brunch/Bridge, accountability, new member, tables for 8, others…

– Bible study
— Biblical basis

– accountability is very important

– regular, frequent meetings important

– prayer together

– intergenerational / multigenerational / cross-generational

– fellowship time

– worship experience

– variety in groups: could be service

– how do you recruit leaders?

– keep it simple, low administration

– widen participation by making it easy

– groups for couples

– having a visible place and way to connect in the church

– have different kinds of groups: covenant groups that are more serious and long term

– layers of involvement: need to be starting new groups all the time (how deep the group goes)

– late night groups, esp for college / younger people

– using Wednesday night time for small group

– room for fun and fellowship, eating together, bonding by breaking bread

– gathering in homes can make it more comfortable for people

– making resources easy for the leaders

– its got to be fun

– wisdom sharing

– like to see everyone in a small group
– broad participation

– whole healing

– leadership question: how do you develop and keep leaders?
— leader support group
— leadership support: leaders need some kind of support

– create excitement about our faith

– not intimidating

– consistency

– opportunities to stretch beyond your comfort zone

– prayer support, learning to pray for others and be prayed for

– covenant part is critical: being faithful to attend, confidentiality, etc which are part of the covenant

– centered on study / common purpose

– strong leadership development

– most important: growing in our relationship with God and with each other

– sustainability

– unity of the Holy Spirit
— spiritual relationships which continue to grow

– shared leadership for the groups

Common themes:
– addressing leadership issues
– accountability and covenants: needs to be a commitment
– growing in relationships and in spiritual development
– prayer focus: having deep enough relationships that you’ll be willing to ask for prayer / share you live
– simplicity
– organization: how we’ve organized in the past, how we might organize now

One big issue: we are seeing the same people involved in our small groups
– we’ve been very lax with recruitment, for journey groups we haven’t recruited for 2 years (in some cases that is because leaders were asked to do something that is fairly complex, and they are intimidated by it)

common with 80% of the people say: we base our study on the sermon of the week
– so someone (could be the preaching pastor) writes the small group curriculum for the week, with essential questions focused on the passage

MY THOUGHT: WHY COULDN’T WE EXTEND DISCUSSIONS LIKE THIS INTO AN ONLINE LEARNING COMMUNITY, LIKE A NING OR A FACEBOOK PAGE? OF COURSE THE FACE-TO-FACE CONNECTIONS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT
– I THINK WE ARE CHANGED OVER TIME BY REPEATED CONVERSATIONS WITH OTHERS WE’RE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH

Now thoughts from John Gruel on discussions and a model which staff have been discussing:

You need to have opportunities for people who do not “know the Bible” to engage

Components (common elements)
1- check in (relationship)
2- study (some intentional reason to get together)
3- prayer
4- mission (a component that directs you out beyond yourself)

make it accessible so people can chime in on the level where they are / want to participate

I NEED TO TALK TO MATEEN ABOUT SETTING UP A LEARNING COMMUNITY TO SUPPORT HIS CLASS, TO PROVIDE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR FELLOWSHIP AND RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

Give us all more opportunities to think more deeply about themes
– this model is Biblical
– the better we do staying Biblical in our small groups, the better we do overall
– if it is a Bible study, you may be more likely to read the verses rather than reading an entire book chapter!

leadership elements: can focus on group dynamics
– encouraging people who are reluctant to participate
– dealing with people to attempt to dominate the discussion

Consistently good questions are really important

Life Church requires everyone who joins the church to join a small group

MAYBE I NEED TO OFFER ASSISTANCE TO HELP OUR PASTORS BECOME BLOGGERS? THEY COULD SHARE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR MESSAGES, GET IN TOUCH WITH CHURCH MEMBERS AND OTHERS IN DIALOG ABOUT THESE SORTS OF ISSUES… OUR CHURCH WEBSITE HAS BLOGS AND SUPPORTS BLOGGING, BUT I THINK SELF-CONTAINED BLOGS LIKE THAT WHICH ARE PART OF A CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM ARE LESS EFFECTIVE / VALUABLE THAN “STANDALONE” BLOGS. NOT ONLY CAN THEIR LIFE (LIFE OF THE BLOG) CONTINUE EVEN WHEN THE PASTOR MOVES ON TO ANOTHER CALL, BUT THEY ALSO CAN BE “OUT” IN THE WIDER BLOGOSPHERE.

Most churches make copies of the questions available (in hard copy form)
– form a lunch group after church, provide those opportunities

Interesting: there was a proposal to change our church’s name to “Summit Church” but the Session voted that down
– I DID NOT KNOW THAT VOTE HAD TAKEN PLACE!

BASICALLY I THINK WHAT JOHN IS PROPOSING HERE IS TO PROVIDE A STANDARD CURRICULUM FOR GROUPS
– THIS IS INTERESTING: WE WERE ASKED TO COME TO THIS MEETING AND BRING OUR IDEAS ON SMALL GROUPS, BUT AFTER SOME INITIAL DISCUSSIONS WE WERE/ARE BASICALLY BEING TOLD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. THIS MAKES THE INVITATION TO HAVE THESE CONVERSATIONS AND SHARE OUR IDEAS SEEM RATHER SUPERFICIAL, MEANINGLESS, AND LIKE WINDOW-DRESSING: SOMETHING DONE TO CREATE A PERCEPTION OF PARTICIPATION AND INPUT, BUT IN REALITY JUST PRESENT SOMETHING WHICH HAS BEEN DECIDED ALREADY / PRE-DETERMINED. I DON’T PERSONALLY LIKE THIS APPROACH. 🙁

Proposal is to have covenanting periods: fall, spring, and summer

I THINK WE SHOULD EMBRACE DIVERSITY IN OUR SMALL GROUPS. IT’S A NICE IDEA TO PROVIDE A STANDARDIZED CURRICULUM MODEL FOR GROUPS TO USE AND ADOPT, BUT I DON’T THINK WE SHOULD ENVISION THAT AN IDEAL CHURCH HAS EVERY SMALL GROUP FOLLOWING THE SAME CURRICULUM. THIS IS A COMMON FALLACY THAT WE SEE WITH STANDARDIZED EDUCATIONAL MODELS. I SAY, GIVE PEOPLE THIS OPTION FOR THEIR CURRICULUM AND FORMAT, AND PROVIDE THIS AS A SUPPORTED MODEL. DO NOT, HOWEVER, EXPECT OR TRY AND PROMOTE STANDARDIZATION FOR ALL GROUPS TO THIS SAME MODEL.

John does not like closed groups.

Responsibilities of small group leaders:
– coordinator
– contact person
– convener
– providing dynamics to the group
– making sure questions are available
– listening to the sermon and reading the text
– not responsible for in-depth study, having to know all the answers, etc.

Groups like this could have synergy via a social networking site pretty easily

training would be offered at least twice per year

question of recruiting leaders is very important