Above: Cultivating “Next Generation” small group leaders at Unity Church of Arlington, TX
Small group ministry programs are a proven way of engaging congregations and supporting members in their spiritual development. While leadership training for your group leaders plays a significant role in the success of your program, without consistent, congruent support from senior leaders, many programs struggle to get off the ground.
If you are thinking about starting a small group ministry program, or want to explore ways to increase engagement in an existing program, here are five easy ways your minister or spiritual leader can foster grassroots leadership among your congregation:
1) Get strategic. Even if you lead a large program-oriented church, it is useful to think of your small group ministry program in a larger strategic context. Small group ministry can be a powerful tool for supporting the spiritual development of your members and participants. Take time to create or review your church’s growth plans to see how your small groups can contribute to the overall vision and mission of your congregation.
As an exercise with your leadership team: Gather your most recent Sunday bulletin and announcements and then pull up your website. What events/programs are you currently promoting (through these and other channels)? Take a moment to rate each item (on a scale of 1 to 10) in terms of:
– Advancing the mission/vision of the church.
– Sustainability. (Is it something that can continue to exist over time? Are you having to create it from scratch?)
– Scalability. (Does this event/program have potential to grow over time?)
Matthew 6:22 states, “The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Pay attention to where you shine the focus of your light each Sunday. Your clarity and direction (or lack of it!) creates the culture of your church.
2) Join a small group, but don’t lead it. As the leader of the church, you are instrumental in communicating the importance of small groups as a way of supporting each other through the trials and tribulations of life. If you are too busy for a small group commitment, your congregation will follow in your footsteps. Not only will you be nourished by your participation, you will also demonstrate your trust in others as leaders. When you encourage members and newcomers to join, you will have a much more compelling invitation if they see how YOU are blessed by your group’s support and encouragement.
3) Talk about small group ministry every Sunday. Rev Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has built a culture of small group engagement in part by referencing small groups in every sermon he preaches. When he brings in guest speakers, they speak of the importance of small groups as well. It isn’t an announcement. He simply shares his experiences as part of his own spiritual journey, thereby leading the way in creating a small group ministry culture within his church. Weave your small group experiences into the content of your message and you can easily foster a culture of small group involvement.
4) Spotlight your success stories. It doesn’t take long for people to create powerful bonds within their groups. Ask your group leaders to share inspirational stories of things that have happened as a result of their small group support (making sure you have permission from the group first!). During your small group ministry recruitment campaigns, share these success stories as part of your Sunday service. Communicate the impact your groups are having through community service projects. By incorporating multiple voices in your recruitment efforts, you can connect the benefits of small group participation with more people.
5) Personal invitations. Few things are as motivating to people as a personal invitation, especially when it comes from their minister! People want to know they belong. They want to know their presence is sought. They want to know that they are seen as individuals and that their contributions will make a difference. By personally inviting people to join small groups, you give them a tremendous gift. Offer your invitation as a “call to action” during your membership orientation events. Follow up with first-time visitors and make sure they know how they can get involved with a small group. Go beyond group announcements, and make it personal. They will thank you for it later!
Leadership development within a congregation often involves creating cultural change, and cultural change can take time. Focus your time and energy on those who are ready to step up in service to your mission, and allow plenty of space for others to find their way. With commitment and consistency, you can equip your members to lead and grow in a way that brings spiritual principles alive in your congregation, in your community, and in the world.
Hot Tip: Check out our recent webinar for Unity expansion ministries for some practical ideas on how to do this. Watch the video for “Growing Your Expansion Ministry One S.T.E.P. at a Time with Mendhi Audlin, LUT – April 28, 2015.”