If you are going to think in terms of BOTH connecting small groups AND missional communities then you need to develop a connecting strategy that fits your church. When you read a book that speaks to a specific connecting strategy, you often find them writing as if their strategy is THE VERY BEST strategy ever found and that it will work in any and every church. Well, we all know that that is simply not the case. I have never found one connecting small group strategy that works in every church. When I work with churches and help them develop a connecting group strategy, I think in terms of options. Then I try to understand the church culture, the culture where the church is located, the history, and the already present systems to help create a connecting strategy that fits the local church. In most cases, what develops is an adaptation of one or two of these approaches:
- The On-going Open Group Strategy (See Small Groups Big Impact by Jim Egli)
- The Semester Sermon Study Strategy (See Sticky Church by Larry Osborne)
- The Semester Elective-Group Strategy (See Activate by Nelson Searcy)
- The 40-day Campaign Strategy (See Small Groups on Purpose by Steve Gladden and www.markhowelllive.com)
- The 9-month Closed Group Strategy (See Creating Community by Andy Stanley and Bill Willits)
- The Mid-sized Program Strategy, usually involving a revamping of the Sunday School System (See The Connecting Church by Randy Frazee and http://www.abfresources.com/)
- The Class Strategy, usually involving a creative use courses like Alpha or classes that address felt-needs.
Right now I am helping one church adapt aspects of Activate by Nelson Searcy, another church adapt the principles found in Sticky Church by Larry Osborne, and another develop a unique strategy that incorporates their long-running success with Alpha. For five years in the church in Saint Paul, we adapted the 40-day church-wide campaign approach (click here for free downloads of these), and I am currently writing a book entitled Making a Difference which will be written for use as a 40-day campaign resource.
Formerly, I promoted one kind of group. But the more I work with churches the more I realize that the local situation of local churches calls for a great deal of creativity and flexibility. As soon as we start thinking that we have found THE approach, we will find problems. Here's one reason why: most of these strategies have been developed by very large creative churches and are written by a pastor who leads that specific small group system. If I'm charged to develop connecting strategy for a traditional Lutheran or Baptist church of 250, the way that I implement the strategy won't follow the manual developed by a highly creative church of 15,000 people who is led by a very dynamic and innovative speaker. We can learn a lot from these resources, but no one has discovered the "magic bullet" system for small group success.
Just yesterday I was talking with a pastor whose church has been doing groups for over 18 years. They developed these groups from the beginning to be highly intentional and even missional in nature. When they lead people to Christ through their relationship networks, they enfold quite nicely into the groups. But the new people are attending their weekend services are finding it hard to get connected. They are not yet ready for the missional group experience. I'm not sure yet what kind of connecting strategy that will best fit that church. That will become clear as we look deeper at things like:
- What's the history of the church? What kinds of successes? What kinds of struggles?
- What is the vision of the leadership?
- What's the size of the church and how many new people are attending worship each month?
- What's going on in the local culture where the church is set? (City? Suburban? Urban? Socio-economic issues? etc.)
- What's the church tradition? Denominational heritage? The values of that tradition?
- What systems are already in place?
Here's the link to Part 4.