By Thom S. Rainer
As I’ve written in the past, the best way to grow your small groups (or Sunday School) ministry is the start new classes. That in itself requires a great amount of leadership, communication, and vision. You have to recruit volunteers, train leaders, establish on-ramps, and move new people into new groups for a new season of discipleship ministry.
But even once the new groups are started, you’re still not done. Anyone who has launched new groups knows the questions don’t end when the meetings begin.
- Do they meet weekly or bi-weekly?
- Are they open or closed groups?
- Will the groups be kid-friendly or kid-free?
- Will you serve coffee or casseroles?
These may sound like simple questions, but whether you have to make decisions for a network or even a single group, it can feel infinite and overwhelming. And as important as those may seem, don’t let them cause you to miss the three questions that matter most. If you can answer these essential questions correctly, success will not be thwarted by crying kids or burnt casseroles.
Question 1 – How are we going to make disciples?
The main purpose of meeting in small groups is to encourage each other to grow in knowledge of and obedience to Christ. Disciple making is the irrefutable responsibility of followers of Jesus. If your small group isn’t actually making disciples, you might as well not meet. Therefore, it is imperative that you plan what you are going to study, how you are going to apply it, and how you will hold each other accountable to doing so. Choose trustworthy content and structure your discussion and relational engagement to maximize the transformative power of God’s Word. Plan to do more than just meet. Prepare to make disciples.
Question 2 – How are we going to build community?
Sitting around in the same room for an hour or so each week does not really qualify as being in community. You have to be intentional about unity and intimacy. If you are not purposeful about creating community, a group or class will not survive. You should plan how you are going to pray for each other. You should enact a strategy of caring for each other in crisis. Don’t wait for hanging out to happen. Make it happen. As you commit to making disciples, commit to fostering consistent, caring relationships.
Question 3 – How are we going to shape culture?
Just as it does with churches, an inward focus will kill a small group of Sunday School class. An outward focus, however, can lead to transformation that works itself out in public ways to shape homes, churches, and communities. You should help your group members choose a mission to share or a cause to champion. Get involved in your community. Let the passions of your group reflect the passions of the community. Lead your group to set goals for serving and spending time with people in the community that don’t know Jesus. Remember that as Christ is shaping the group, He wants to shape the world through the group also. Answer the question of how you want to see that take place in the group.
These are important questions to answer, because every group may have a unique path to discipleship, community, and cultural impact. A simple tool that can help you move in that direction is the customizable group content at smallgroup.com. There you can easily tailor Bible studies that fit your answers to these questions. You can build studies that support your disciple making plan, fit your relational dynamics, and drive toward your culture shaping goals.
So, plan around these three questions and avoid starting study meetings, snack clubs, or play dates. Instead, launch groups that passionately and intentionally make disciples, build community, and shape culture. Casseroles, while sometimes delicious, are optional.
This article was originally posted on ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.