Reason #4 that Small Groups Don’t Work in America: Design Flaws
Design principles guide the work of architects so they can build sound structures. Architects and structural engineers don’t copy the work of others verbatim. Every building is unique, depending upon many factors including the terrain upon which it is built. If the architect is not equipped in sound design principles, then he will be forced to copy and thereby build something that might not fit the situation at hand.
If we apply this analogy to a small group structure, then we need to identify a few things in very clear terms:
First we need clear small group design principles. There are many good books and blog sites that are available to equip us all in designing good small group structures.
Second, we need architects who are able to apply these design principles to local contexts. In other words, an architect is not one who develops a structure that looks like what is written about in other books. An architect is one who designs a structure that fits the needs of the environment.
Third, we need builders who can build the structure that has been designed. Most architects are not good builders and most builders are not adept at the creative thinking required to apply sound design principles to specific situations.
Fourth, we need maintainers who can keep the small group system working right. This is where the role of the pastoral shepherds comes into play. See this post.
The problem has been three-fold. First, most churches don’t think about the need for these roles when developing or growing groups. Therefore depending upon the personalities and strengths of the people involved (either staff or volunteer) they will focus on one of the roles. Usually, I find that churches will focus on the role of the “builder.”
The second problem is that most churches cannot afford to address all of these needs.
Problem number three is that there are fewer people who are wired with the strengths to play the role of small group architect or designer. I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I have tried to force myself into the role of a maintainer and a builder because that’s the role I assumed I needed to play. I’ve done both for a while, but I was never that good at it. Now I see that I am an architect, a creative designer who applies small design principles to specific situations. Honestly, I rarely find many who are wired with these propensities. And when I do find someone like this, they are in very large churches and they work with people who are builders and maintainers.
Most often, a leader who is a builder or a maintainer will buy a few books on small groups and then do the work of building or maintaining groups. This is true because we always do a job or a role in a way that fits our strengths or tendencies. A builder builds and a maintainer maintains, even if the situation calls for something else.
As a result, the group system that a church develops might very well have design flaws, even if they follow the instructions laid out in various books. Most of the time, churches need architects to come alongside the builders and maintainers in a local context and to help them apply the design principles in a way that fits the local situation thereby eliminating these design flaws as much as possible.
In most cases, an small group designer is only needed for a short time. Sometimes, he or she plays the role of a consultant. Sometimes a trainer. Sometimes that of a coach who walks alongside for a year or two. Good architects in the construction world are expensive, but you don’t want to skimp on the design. You will always pay more for fixing the flaws than you would if you had a good plan up front. The same it true for small group designs. You can go the cheap route and buy a book and start building. But you will most likely end up paying the price down the road, usually in the form of people getting hurt.
Find a good small group designer and get the help you need to establish a good design for your church. You want someone who is able to help you develop something local, something that fits your situation. You don’t want to just have someone come in and layout a universal plan that they give to everyone. Also note that different designers specialize in different things. Do your homework and find one that can provide the kind of design that you need.