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Some things in life …
are just as effective and more efficient in their disposable form. Think about diapers. Our family has cloth diapers and disposable diapers. Both serve the same purpose. Yet the cloth diapers require a great deal of maintenance and care. The disposables serve their purpose, then find their way to the landfill. The added bonus to disposable diapers is the dad in our family will actually change those. Cloth diapers? Well forget it.
What if we offered small groups in a disposable form? Before the relationships get messy, before the leader needs training, before you need to assign a coach, just reboot the group. Dispose of the group before any of the usual group tensions take place. Think about it. Rather than enduring through the conflict and struggle of the small group lifecycle, we could just enjoy the first six weeks of the honeymoon phase, then cast the other problems aside.
Let’s face it. Maintaining groups for the long haul is exhausting.
1. Disposable Groups Don’t Require Coaching.
Most small group pastors feel overwhelmed by the thought of a coaching structure. Even if you can actually fill out the org chart, most coaches don’t even really know what to do. They like the title. They carry a certain amount of guilt from not coaching. For most churches, even if there is some sort of coaching structure in place, the small group leaders are basically on their own anyway. With disposable small groups, there is no need for coaching. If the group is really that bad off in the first six weeks, then you probably just need to dispose of it sooner rather than later.
2. Disposable Groups Don’t Need Training.
People hate meetings. Pastors feel their calling in life is to hold meetings. But, most small group pastors are frustrated by the low attendance and general apathy toward their meetings. Disposable groups don’t need training. Seriously, how much could they possibly mess up in only six weeks? And, if they do, then see the last sentence in Point #1.
After a long day’s work, people don’t have time to drive home, eat dinner, drive to the church, attend a meeting, then drive home and collapse into bed so they can do the same thing all over again in a few hours. Some small group pastors expect their leaders to give up part of their Saturday. Chances are slim to none leaders will show up then.
3. Why Deal with an EGR, If You Can Just Leave Them Behind?
John Ortberg’s book says it all, “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them.” If that’s the case, then disposable groups will keep the group relationships as normal as possible—You don’t really get to know people. You do a six week Bible study. There’s plenty of value in that. But, before people feel comfortable enough to share their idiosyncrasies, you’re outta there.
What’s better is if you end up with an Extra Grace Required person, a.k.a. “weirdo,” you can cut them (and yourself)loose in only six weeks. After all, this group came together for only one series, and now you’re done! Whew! Dodged that bullet.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea.
While there may be some practical aspects of sustaining groups for the long term and not reinventing the wheel during church-wide campaigns, the beauty of disposable groups is an endless supply of potential group leaders/hosts/gatherers in your congregation. If you could have the same number of groups (or more) next Fall as you have this Spring, then why do all of the hard work of helping them survive the Summer, manage group dynamics or select follow up Bible studies? After all, if you can say you have 50 groups now, and then you can post 65 groups in the Fall, why does it matter who’s actually leading the group? Numbers don’t lie. Whether your 65 groups in the Fall are made up of 50 Spring groups + 15 Fall groups or 65 brand new groups, you’ve still grown your small group ministry.
Now, disposable small groups aren’t for everyone. Some prefer the cloth diaper approach, and that’s OK. Go ahead and spend the time avoiding sticks from safety pins and sloshing number two’s in the toilet. You’ll have continuity for sure. But, for the rest of us, we’ll just show up with a big case of Pampers in the Fall, and then we’ll see who has the most groups.
I caused a bit of a ruckus this week by proposing the idea of Disposable Small Groups. I used the analogy of disposable diapers versus cloth diapers. Here’s the bottom line (so to speak): Diapers are useful for a brief period of time, but the goal is to potty train our children. If our small group ministries stay in diapers, we’re all in trouble.
While some small group strategies unfortunately produce groups that are short-lived or a system is not in place to sustain these groups beyond one series, the reality is this phenomena of “disposable groups” can be completely avoided, if the right things are in place.
1. Groups Require Coaching
I will admit coaching is a tough one. It’s hard to find the right people. Most small group pastors are unclear about the role of a coach. And, to top it all off, when you launch a church-wide campaign, whatever coaching system you did have in place is completely overwhelmed. I’ve been there. In fact, in our church in California we doubled our small groups in a day. Here’s how we figured out coaching.
Do the math: If you double your groups, then half of your groups are new and half of your groups have experience. We implemented the buddy system. We matched up an experienced leader with a new leader for the six week campaign. We didn’t call them “coach.” We called them “buddy” or “helper.” What we found was more of our new groups sustained and fewer of our groups were, uh, disposable.
At the end of the six weeks, we asked the experienced leaders if they enjoyed helping a new leader. If they did and they were effective, we invited them to coach a few new leaders during the next campaign while they continued to lead their existing groups.
Over time, this structure developed levels of Community Leaders, Coaches and Group Leaders similar to what Carl George advocates in Prepare Your Church for the Future. Just as Jethro instructed Moses in Exodus 18, we had leaders of tens, leaders of fifties, leaders of hundreds, and leaders of thousands. Or, in the case of that church, leader of thousand (singular).
A coaching structure may seem daunting, but without it, you are destined to produce disposable small groups.
2. Groups Need Training
People hate meetings. Meetings are inconvenient. People are busy. So, we really need to ask the question: What is training?
Training can be a blog post. In fact, that’s how this blog got started. I would answer one of my leader’s questions each week and send it to all of the rest.
Training can also appear on the curriculum DVD. By adding weekly training to the DVD, a leader has what they need when they need it as they go through the materials.
Training can be sent by video through an email. Any small group pastor/director with a smartphone, an iPad or a laptop can record a two-minute video (not longer) and send it out to his/her small group leaders each week. This is even better than training on the DVD, because you can answer timely questions as they are asked rather than anticipating what questions they might ask.
Yes, we still need initial training to get a group started. This could happen between services or even during a service, but we need to rethink small group training. If our leaders are learning through blogs, books, articles or video emails, then that IS training.
3. No EGR Left Behind
Every group sooner or later will encounter a difficult person. Personally, I am only comfortable in a group where I am the difficult person. No one is comfortable when a challenging person shows up to their group. But, there is help.
Identifying needs, even challenging ones, presents a great opportunity to offer help maybe in a way you weren’t able to before. Chances are the church staff may not have even known about the need. Don’t shy away from these opportunities to serve. While the group doesn’t need to turn into that individual’s support group, you can direct them to support through actual support groups in the church or community as well as counseling resources. Of course, any person should be welcome to stay in your group, but they need to be reminded that the purpose of the group is for fellowship and Bible study not for group therapy.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea, but Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Growing churches have great potential to recruit new hosts during every church-wide campaign. But, don’t turn this into a numbers game. Rather than merely celebrating in your group total, we need to celebrate whose groups are continuing and how these groups are growing deeper in relationship with each other and with God.
I hope you were disgusted with the idea of disposable small groups. While some groups will form for only one series, then disappear until the next church-wide campaign, this should be the exception and not the rule. By following these principles, disposable groups can be avoided.
How is God encouraging you today?