Reason #5 that Small Groups Don’t Work in America: Senior Pastors Try to Be Small Group Pastors
For various reasons senior pastors feel the need to be the primary small groups pastor. They lead the church and try to develop small groups and oversee life (or lack thereof) that transpires in those groups. They often feel that they need to serve as the group architect, the group builder and the group sustainer. In other words, they feel the pressure to be the creator, developer and the pastor of groups.
In addition, this idea of the senior pastor as the small groups pastor has been propagated for years, if not decades. David Yongii Cho has always stated that he is the cell group pastor of his church. There are those who state that Rick Warren is the small groups pastor at Saddleback. And there are others who instruct pastors that they need to be the primary initiator of groups when they want to start them.
Then in the case of smaller churches, pastors are left with few options but to be the small group pastor. They don't see anyone else who can do it.
About ten years ago, I was wrapping up three years of research on churches that had successfully developed small group systems and compared their change journey with those who had not succeeded. One of the things that I found was that in most churches that were successful in their transition, the senior pastor did not serve as the small group pastor. Over the years, I have continued to ask questions about this in the most successful cases. When you do a bit more digging, Cho has always been the carrier of his cell church vision. Warren is the standard bearer and the primary promoter of small groups in his church. And when you look inside Andy Stanley’s church in Atlanta, he has always participated in group life, promoting the vision with his feet.
But in almost every case of small group/cell group success, there is someone else who walks alongside the senior pastor as the small group pastor. The senior pastor of course carries the vision, talks about groups, teaches about group principles, but this is done in partnership with someone who walks side-by-side with the senior pastor. I’ve seen this to be the case more times than I can count in all kinds of small group and cell church models. This is the case with Steve Gladen and Rick Warren at Saddleback. Steve plays the role of small group point leader. I could make a long list of other examples.
I have followed the journey of one church that started off with a small group pastor who developed the group systems and walked alongside the senior pastor. But then they changed and the senior pastor took over. It did not take long before small groups eventually took a back seat.
The skills needed to preach, lead the various aspects of church life and work with the different departments of a church are different than the skills needed to develop groups. Most pastors don’t have the gift set for recruiting and training leaders to oversee groups and develop group leaders. In fact, many times the best small group point persons who pastor the groups are not great preachers and won’t ever be a senior pastor down the road.
In Reason #6, I’ll deal with the exception to this rule and when the senior pastor can effectively serve as the Groups Point Person
In Reason #7, I’ll deal with the pitfall of the Senior Pastor and Groups Point Person being on different pages.