By Chris Surratt
We’re talking a lot about health in our current environment, and rightly so. At time time this article was published there have been over two million cases and 120,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States alone. Monitoring and taking care of our personal health is vital right now.
In the same way, church leaders need to monitor and invest in the ongoing health of their small groups. For many churches, small groups are the spiritual and relational lifeblood for the congregation. Groups are the environment where the message of the gospel is lived out through the practice of the “one-anothers.”
Never before has this ministry been more crucial in the modern church. While churches all over the world are restricted to online or socially distanced gatherings, groups of 20 or less in homes are becoming the best option for not only fellowship and Bible study, but also corporate worship. Groups can gather for “watch parties” of the weekend service and follow it immediately with a discussion of the message.
Therefore, if groups are that important to the current and future state of the church, we should do everything we can now to ensure they’re healthy and resourced for success. Here are four ways to help make that happen.
1. Budget for this new reality.
Small groups and discipleship aren’t normally at the top of the budget needs for churches. Groups are a somewhat low-maintenance and self-sustaining ministry line item.
They meet in homes, purchase their own studies (if a Bible study is involved), and provide their own food or snacks. There might be some money budgeted for leadership training and appreciation, but that’s about it.
In order for groups to function effectively in this pandemic reality, there will have to be more invested financial resources. More in the depth and quality of what’s being studied. More in staffing for discipleship. More in helping group leaders and hosts provide a welcoming environment.
2. Make groups a priority everywhere.
The option to join a group can no longer be three clicks away on the website, or a once-or-twice a year emphasis from the pulpit. The church website was considered the new lobby for the church, but it’s now the lobby, bulletin, and stage.
Getting people assimilated into groups has to be easy and obvious from the first page of your website. Online Zoom groups have made this easier than ever, but in-person groups will need to be as well.
It’s also imperative that groups are mentioned frequently in weekend messages. It’s not enough to just have fliers at the information center in the lobby anymore.
3. Invest in the leaders.
Asking people to shepherd and disciple a portion of the congregation has always been a monumental task, and not one to be taken lightly, but it’s even more critical now. We can no longer rely on warm bodies with time capacity and a decent-sized living room.
Our group leaders need adequate training and ongoing soul care from the leaders of the church. If we decide that small groups in homes are now the church environment, then we must invest in the group leaders just as we would in staff ministers and pastors.
They don’t necessarily need seminary training, but they do need to know how to lead themselves and those around them to become more like Jesus.
4. Model from the top.
Sheep will follow where the shepherd leads. Research shows that churches with leadership who are highly invested in groups have more people in the congregation actively attending groups.
If the lead communicators are actively involved in groups and frequently share stories from those group experiences, people will understand they’re a priority. If groups are just another option listed on the website, they’ll most likely pass on them.
This next season of ministry will require much from our small groups and leaders. Let’s do everything we can to make sure they’re as healthy as they can be.
Chris is the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources, a ministry consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience, and the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.