3 December 2013
This project will address the implementation of small group ministry into a church with a more traditional model of ministry in place. Specifically, it will address the implementation and administration of a successful small group ministry model based upon the administrative model of a church within the same denomination located in the Atlanta, GA area. This church has experienced growth and maturity since implementing their small group ministry several years ago.
The neighboring church which is referred to is a church that had a ministry model very similar to traditional churches – a ministry model of Sunday school, Sunday morning worship services, Sunday evening worship services, and a Wednesday night prayer group. However, they decided to make a conscious shift to implementing a small group ministry. The pastor and his board went back-and-forth on the idea for a while before coming to a decision. The decision they made was to transition from being a church with small groups to becoming a church of small groups. They had a couple of small groups that were not managed or administrated by the church already meeting in the homes of various people in the congregation, and they decided to make this their “tip of the spear” in terms of the focal point of their church ministry. They decided to have small groups be the place where incorporation into the church body occurs, where discipleship occurs, where fellowship occurs, and where, ultimately, salvation occurs. This was the goal for their small group ministry at their church, and they have become extremely successful since adjusting their model.
If this model were to be implemented in our current situation, here is what would have to be accomplished. Firstly, this church was in an urban area with high concentrations of people. Neighborhoods in this area are absolutely enormous with literally hundreds of families living there. My rural setting in North Carolina has a much lower population that is spread out over larger areas of land. In this case, we should expect our timetable to be much longer than theirs. However, there are certain areas of town which tend to have more people in them than others. In this case, I would see these areas as being those where you would want to concentrate your small groups. The town is very small, so you could get a large wall map and pinpoint the locations of all the church members on the map. In doing this, it helps both the pastor and board to visualize those areas where small groups could function most efficiently. You could limit driving distance, work around family times, and stagger the meeting dates throughout the week to accommodate as many people as possible.
Most importantly, however, a decision has to be made, like the urban church, to simply put the full force of effort behind the initiative to become a church of small groups. Once this decision is made, the leadership would be the most important aspect. In our church there is only one person on staff – the pastor. Quite understandably, it would not be beneficial for the pastor to be carrying out all the functions of the church himself. You would not simply want others to manage the groups – it would, in fact, be a great necessity for the growth of the church for others to be managing the groups. So, what then, is the best way to manage these groups to minimize the chance of failure in such a concentrated effort?
The most reasonable solution, and I believe the most biblical, is to have the elders of the church run the small groups. According to the biblical qualifications of an elder as Paul puts forth in both Titus and Timothy, they are to be able to teach. This is a very basic biblical requirement for those who serve as elders in the church. In our church polity, we have an elder board, of which the pastor is the head elder. There are a board of elders in addition to the pastor whose job it is to oversee the spiritual growth, development, and welfare of the flock. Additionally, these elders already meet once per month to discuss spiritual matters. These meetings would provide the perfect opportunity to discuss matters related to the various small groups. The administration could even be set up so that each elder writes a report on their small group each month, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each group. Administrating the groups in such a way ensures not only direct oversight by a church elder, but also oversight of the elder by the elder board, which is the ultimate authority in the local church. In addition to this administrative benefit received from this structure, the church also receives a great number of spiritual benefits as well.
As in the case of the urban church, small groups become the form by which the functions of discipleship, fellowship, integration, and salvation take place. This should also be the goal of the small group ministry in our own church. It is not uncommon for a visitor to walk through the doors of the church and be completely lost as to where to go or who to talk to. In the case of our church, when you walk through the front doors you are greeted by the “Berlin Wall”, as I refer to it. There is a long, tall cinderblock wall which one must circumnavigate around in order to get to any classes or the sanctuary. The degree to which one feels welcomed to the church by a big cinderblock wall is likely not very much. However, if visitors are welcomed into the homes of congregants, who are spiritually led and fed by a capable elder of the church, the atmosphere is extremely welcoming. The likelihood of this visitor having a positive first impression of the church is exponentially greater in this case than if they are greeted by the cinderblock “Berlin Wall”.
Doing this would also accomplish the purposes of fellowship and discipleship, both of which are key components of the ministry of the local church as described in Acts 2:42-47. With integration accomplished, they then receive spiritual care under the tutelage of a church elder where they immediately are taught the Word and have some degree of accountability with this small group of which they are an important part. Once integration and discipleship take place, fellowship is really a natural outflow and outcome of these two key variables. If the visitor feels welcomed and integrated into the church, and they are fed by a capable elder and developed into a mature Christian, then the group will naturally provide fellowship with one another. So then, how do these small groups become integrated with the church body at large? Is there a way to have “cross-pollination” between groups so as to keep the church from becoming a collection of isolated groups?
If the church becomes a church of small groups – in other words, a church whose primary ministry is small groups – then Sunday morning provides a great time for the small groups to share testimonies and introduce new families to the church body. Due to the administrative structure of elder leadership, there will be effective communication between small groups as well. The church could have, as a regular part of its Sunday school offerings, or as a separate Wednesday night class, a “new members” class where all of these new families meet one another, meet the pastor, and receive an education on the particular doctrine, structure, and ministry of the church. When they decide to become members, the pastor and the small group of which they became a part of the church would publicly welcome them into church membership. Public baptisms, child dedications, and other important aspects of church ministry would take place at a later date as to the discretion of the family’s elder who is overseeing their spiritual development in the small group setting.
With this structure in place and running successfully, integration, discipleship, fellowship, and membership would become a very seamless process which could greatly enhance the reach of the church into the local community far beyond what is currently taking place. As the ministry expands, the administrative structure would need to expand with it in order to ensure proper spiritual care for those in the church. However, as you develop mature Christians, both quantitatively and qualitatively, this would not be such a difficult task.
NG, LR, & NCU
My collection of personal papers written over the years