What do effective small group pastors do versus small group pastors that fall short of expectations? Before talking about a list of activities, let's first begin with perspective. Perspective will help you ask the right questions. And if you are not asking the right questions, then it won't matter what kind of list you work from.
In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about companies that stand out and what they do that is different than those who are average. He and his team of researches discovered that great companies practice patterns that result in the “flywheel effect.” Imagine a huge flywheel, one three stories high and weighing over 5000 pounds. The goal is to push the flywheel so that it rotates by simply leveraging your strength against it. By pushing once, it moves slightly. You realize that it will require multiple, consistent pushes to get it moving. After some pushing, it turns once. Then you keep pushing, and it turns again and again and again. Collins writes:
“Then, at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon the work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum.
Now suppose someone came along and asked, “What was the one big push that caused this thing to go so fast?”
You wouldn’t be able to answer; it’s just a nonsensical question. Was it the first push? The second? The fifth? The hundredth? No! It was all of them added together in an overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction. Some pushes may have been bigger than others, but any single heave—no matter how large—reflected a small fraction of the entire cumulative effective upon the flywheel.” (164-165)
Collins then goes on to site studies on businesses that brought about change; unity with an organization and alignment around a vision not through the adoption of a new system; the announcement of a new bold program; or a big step that proved to be a magic moment. He boldly proclaims, “There is no miracle moment. … Rather it was a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done to create the best future results and then simply taking those steps, one after the other, turn by turn of the flywheel.” (169)
The same is true in churches that have produced small groups that experience small groups that are living in community and on mission. They don’t stand up and announce that they will change the church by mobilizing everyone in a new small group program. Instead, leaders invest their energy in the right places to produce tangible results that reveals the power of being a part of a community on mission. They recognize that moving the community & mission flywheel will take time (in some cases a few years). They keep at it, pushing forward in little ways that only produces small results at first . . . and they celebrate those small results and even the turtle-slow pace of the process. They have learned something very valuable: this is God’s way of building community & mission momentum.
After 20 years of working with churches and small groups, I’ve observed that groups that fall short of community and mission are often found in churches that look for the magical small group strategy that will make everything fall into place at once, within a budget cycle, or a school year. But those whose groups are moving out in mission started slow, kept at it, and have learned that consistent leverage creates movement. In contrast to flywheel effect, Collins observed a contrasting pattern in companies that were not able to implement new ideas or lead people to align around a vision. He writes:
Instead of a quiet deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done and then simply doing it, the comparison companies frequently launched new programs—often with great fanfare and hoopla aimed at “motivating the troops”—only to see the programs fail to produce sustained results. They sought the single defining action, the grand program, the one killer innovation, the miracle moment that would allow them to skip the arduous buildup stage and jump right to breakthrough. They would push the flywheel in one direction, then stop, change course, and throw it in a new direction—and then they would stop, change course, and throw it into yet another direction. (178)
To see a movement of group life that moves beyond a program that we have to prop up with effort and administration and into an organic group experience of community and mission, we must consider how to best apply the right kind of leverage to the flywheel and then go about it quietly. We don’t need any new programs, fanfare, or grand announcements about how small groups will change the life of our churches. Consistency and focus is the name of the game. If you look at all of the various models that have proven effective, while their specific strategies vary they all share this in common. The point leaders and the team that oversees the small groups stay focused, they remain consistent and they apply leverage to the flywheel, over and over and over.
(This post is an adaptation from Chapter 1 of my book MissioRelate.)