Author Archives: Chris Surratt
I believe that small groups are where sustained, life change happens best. That when a group of people spend time together in Biblical community, spiritual growth is possible. But when small groups are the option and not just an option at a church, there are also tons of additional benefits that come along with them. Here are 5 of them:
1. Offsite groups solve space problems.
As a growing, multi-site church, on campus space will always be an issue for us. Even if we wanted to offer a more traditional Sunday School format for classes, we would not have anywhere to put them. A few of our campuses are portable, and they are allowed to use just enough rooms to pull off a Sunday morning experience with worship and kids. Even our permanent facilities are completely packed on Sundays with what it takes to create an effective environment for families. We could build more buildings and continue adding rooms, but there will never be enough space. Small groups in homes all over the city are the best answer to space problems for us.
2. They limit the choices.
Recent studies have shown when people are faced with too many choices on a decision, it paralyzes them. We believe the more options we have the better, but it’s actually the opposite. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is In-N-Out Burger. They offer four things on their menu: Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, Shakes and Drinks. That’s it. It helps that their burgers are really, really good, but I love that I don’t have to think about it when I go in. I just order a cheeseburger and fries. I also love the food at The Cheesecake Factory, but the twenty page menu of options gives me anxiety every time I go. Apple Computers recognized this early on and started creating products that are simple and obvious. One button is all you need. When new people visit our church and ask us what they should do next, the answer is one button: join a small group. If small groups are just an option on a long menu of choices, they will lose every time.
3. They broaden the span of pastoral care.
We could never hire enough staff to facilitate spiritual care for every person who attends our church. Starting a small group gives people the opportunity to discover their God given gifts and abilities through leading. Instead of always hiring more staff pastors to keep up with the growth, we have commissioned 300 leaders to pastor their small circles of community. Our group leaders have become the first line of care in the church. If one of our pastors is required to make a hospital visit because of an emergency, the person’s small group is almost always already there waiting.
4. They create a natural pipeline for leadership.
A question most churches are asking is, “Where do you find leaders?”. A small group system is an ideal incubator for potential leaders and future staff members. If you want to find out if people will follow someone, ask them to start a small group. If you want to find out if someone can build teams, ask them to coach 3-5 small group leaders for a semester. Looking for your next campus pastor? Look for the small group leader you keep encouraging to start new groups because their own group is now the size of a small church.
5. They make a large church feel small.
We all want our churches to grow, but the downside to growth is the loss of personal intimacy. After the church grows beyond 300 people, it’s impossible for attenders to know everyone. This is exasperated when a church goes to multiple services, and it is completely lost when a church becomes multi-site (more than one location). The only way to keep people from falling through the cracks is by creating a system to catch them. Small groups help the church keep people who would otherwise drift back out in anonymity. We all long for the feeling that someone knows our name on Sunday. Small groups provide it.
I am extremely excited to share what I have been working on for the past 6 months: I will be releasing my first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How To Design Your Small Groups System To Reach The Fringes, on the Leadership Network Next Imprint with HarperCollins Christian Publishing in the fall of 2015!
Writing a book has probably been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life, but I cannot wait to share these ideas with all of you. This also means that I will soon be returning to producing new content here on the blog. Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to write a book and meaningful posts at the same time.
You can find more info about the book and other Next projects at leadnet.org/next.
I had the incredible privilege of spending last week in Kenya seeing all of the amazing work that Blood:Water Mission is doing to help end the HIV/AIDS and water crisis in Africa. It’s estimated that in the Lwala community alone, 1 in 5 people are currently infected with HIV/AIDS. That is a staggering number that cannot be ignored. Through clean water initiatives and HIV/AIDS clinics, progress is slowly moving forward. But it’s going to take the long game to see it through.
After visiting several clinics, schools and communities all over Kenya, one key component for change was repeated over and over: small groups. There is still such a stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa that isolation is fueling the cycle of disease. Even though they are dying, men refuse to seek out treatment for fear of embarrassment and abandonment in their community. We were told the only way to break that cycle is through smaller support groups of men and women.
We experienced unprecedented small groups of wives AND husbands meeting weekly to talk about how to move forward with this disease. That was unheard of before. We listened to men stand up and talk about how they are carrying the message of life back to their community. HIV positive women invited us into their homes to share how they are sharing their story to hopefully change their village.
I don’t care where you are in the world, I am more convinced now that real, sustainable life-change only comes through the accountability and support that smaller groups can offer. They can change an African village. They can change a nation. They can change your neighborhood.
Don’t give up trying.
It’s January. You have signed up a bunch of new leaders and launched your small group campaign. Things seem to be going great until you start hearing about groups that are no longer meeting, leaders that have left the church, and members who are frustrated with the church’s latest attempt at creating community.
Chances are, you didn’t have a plan to take care of your new leaders after the launch. We tend to put a lot of time and planning into the front end of a campaign, but little into it after it has launched. If you’re not careful, your leaders will quickly become frustrated and feel used by the church leadership. Here are 5 things that can quickly frustrate your leaders:
1. Little communication from the staff
New leaders need continued guidance from the church leadership. I don’t believe that you can over-communicate with a new leader in the first few weeks of a campaign. There will be a point where you will be able to give them some space, but they need to know you are walking this out with them. Don’t leave your leaders on island to fend for themselves.
2. No clear direction on what’s next
If you want your groups to continue on after the initial 6 weeks of the campaign, they will need a plan for what’s next. That’s why I believe so strongly in providing a curriculum menu that guides leaders through a semester. Pick something that is similar to what was used in the campaign. Make it easy and obvious.
3. No sign of an off-ramp
I am a big believer in clear semesters that give leaders and members easy on and off ramps. They need to know that this is not a lifetime commitment. Have set end dates where your leaders can re-evaluate their commitment to another 6 weeks.
4. Lack of appreciation
It’s tempting to move on to the next thing and not take time to appreciate the effort your hosts and leaders are putting in now. They will be more willing to do it again if they feel like it was worth the effort.
5. No ongoing training
It’s easy to send off new hosts with a curriculum packet and a dvd of basic training. But if you want them to continue and grow as leaders, they will need more than that. Develop a plan for next steps training that will help your hosts transition to long-term group leaders. The goal of every campaign should be developing leaders for ongoing groups.