by Rick Howerton
One of the biggest problems facing the American Church today is the fact that many people would consider themselves “unchurched.” So the challenge is this: can people be reached with the gospel despite their distrust of the local church?
The answer is yes. But we must offer an informal and relational study group in which people find personal identity.
Small-group Bible studies offer a secure and non-threatening place where people can study God’s Word and build authentic relationships. The key, however, is creating quality, intentional Bible study group experiences that grow out of a clear commitment to make them work.
1. Seek God’s wisdom.
Pray about whether to start a small group and that God will prepare you for the next few steps in this journey. Without a doubt, this is the most neglected step. But this is a very important one because small group ministry requires leaders who have a heart for people and are willing to invest themselves in the lives of group members.
2. Clarify your vision.
Developing a mission based on prayer and commitment will help you set the course. A vision helps focus your efforts in one direction rather than chasing off in multiple directions.
3. Identify your target.
It’s good to know who you want to reach through your group. Most of the time, you can figure this out just by looking around your community and asking a few questions: Who is accessible to you? Who do you already know? Do you want to offer an early morning Bible study for business leaders? Are there young moms in your community who need a support system? Could you organize a prayer and Bible study group where young adults hang out?
4. Develop a strategy.
Think about the people around your church. How many have been there for years? Most likely, someone has tried this before. So that means that some have failed and some have succeeded. Bring together those people and other leaders who can offer fresh ideas and wisdom for creating something new.
5. Choose your approach.
How frequent will your group meet and what types of studies will you have? One way to choose your approach is to start with a calendar. Plan from a yearly perspective if possible, then focus in on each month. This is a great time to dream about what God can do in your community. Be mindful of your group members and what their needs are while you plan. Don’t forget to allow for some flexibility in your planning.
6. Train small group leaders.
Again, the nature of small group studies is different from an ongoing Sunday School class. Identify potential leaders and their strengths, equip them based on the unique needs of the small group target and commission them to fulfill the tasks for which they have been trained.
7. Monitor the process.
The small group approach needs one central leader who coordinates the work. This leader can evaluate the effectiveness of current studies. He or she will also identify other needs to address and plan for groups.
Start every group with a leader and an apprentice. Every leader should be training an apprentice to someday lead his or her own group. Equip them to invest themselves in others as their leaders have in them.
9. Learn and apply.
As you complete different studies or books, evaluate and plan new groups based on your experience. Never be afraid to adapt. Use all the organizational tools you can find to create a life-changing small group ministry.
BONUS: Learn more about Rick Howerton and the Groups Matter initiative.
Rick Howerton is the discipleship and small group specialist at LifeWay. He is founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tenn., and author of Countdown: Launching and Leading Transformational Group.
Reprinted from Lifeway.com.