Today I completed another book on my reading list! As a groups pastor I always add in several books on researching ideas, strategies, suggestions on ways to continue to tweak small group systems. Over the years I have learned a lot from others in this area and continue to add modifications in where I can. There is no system that works completely all the time and the best small groups system in any church is custom-designed for it to meet the needs of why the system exists there.

In “Small Groups for the Rest of Us“, Chris Surratt  does a good job taking this approach of someone who has also tweaked a system to fit the needs of the church it was in. I like that the book isn’t proposing just a new system but more or less some best practices per se that can be implemented and spliced into an existing system. Surratt does well in being honest about places where they struggled along the way and even where they may not have things completely figured out yet.

As Surratt states in the book:

In a growing church, every system should be tweaked or completely blown up every few years.

I do also like that Surratt wrote a bit about multi-site group structure in this since that is an area of group ministry I am currently looking to learn more about.

If you are a small group director or pastor I would recommend this book and choose some best practices to implement. You don’t necessarily need to add them all in at once but by making a few changes here and there you can gain traction quite quickly.

You will never know what works for your church until you put it into action. One thing, however, is certain: there is no single system that works perfectly for every church. (p.71)

A few questions and/or changes I am contemplating after reading this which may help you process through your own groups system:

  • How can we better champion stories of life-change to group leaders?
  • Spiritual leadership groups structure and format?
  • We currently do block parties but could benefit from a formalized kit with branded/printed materials
  • Phone calls instead of emails to group prospects (easy change to make)
Instead of sending e-mails welcoming them to the group community, staff called everyone who indicated a desire to join a group who gave us their phone number. The response to this small change in approach was huge. The people we talked to were surprised we would take the time to call them. Not only did our rate of response go way up, but we were able to pray with people and heard incredible stories of life change during (p.59)
  • Coaching- on demand coaching?
Instead of requiring every leader to have a coach at all times, we asked only new leaders to have a coach for at least the first semester. We gave our veteran leaders the option of having one. They could opt out at any time. (p.61)
  • Is it clear the Lead Pastor is the small group champion?

A lot of pastors make the mistake of delegating the role of the small-group champion to a staff member. (p.65)

  • Small group directory/database…time to switch or keep what we have?
Do not skimp on the database or website. If your congregation cannot find information about a group from their phone, it may as well not exist.
  • Plan a group leader appreciation dinner?
Budget for at least one nice evening every year to appreciate your group leaders. (p.67)
  • During church-wide campaigns look into pre-printed books and outside writing companies for them. Extra content for videos?

One of our recent video message studies was completely based online. Our pastor would shoot bonus content for his message on Thursday, and we would upload it to the website by Sunday for our groups to use that week. (p.115)

  • If nothing were impossible, what would you attempt with groups? Dream big!
  • Is it time to implement a “host” strategy? “Leadership Rally” before? Senior Pastor to share vision there for it. Panels of seasoned leaders to take questions.
The best path for us is through our host groups strategy. Three weeks before the all-church campaign, our pastor makes a push from the stage for people to step up and commit to hosting a group for the six weeks during our all-church campaign. (p.78)
  • Online training modules?
A few of our online training modules include:
  • Why community?
  • What does healthy community look like?
  • A confident leader:
  • Groups on mission:
  • Leading discussions: (p.81-82)
  • Are the right coaches in place?
Look for these characteristics in an effective coach:
  • Good listener:
  • Seasoned groups leader:
  • Good communicator:
  • Leader of leaders:
  • You want to go after level 4 and level 5 leaders to be coaches. They will raise the level of leadership throughout your system.
  • Prayer warrior:
  • Are stories being celebrated often enough about small groups?

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Stories of life-change through the power of community are why people will give small groups a go.

  • Is it clear in our system what constitutes a small group?
One of the initial decisions you have to make for your groups system is what constitutes an official small group at your church.
  • Is weekly attendance reporting needed?
It is important to know how many people are actively attending groups, but asking leaders to take weekly attendance is the wrong way to do it.
The goal of the group can become about numbers. Each week’s attendance will fluctuate along with members’ schedules. A leader does not need the extra pressure of feeling like a failure on the down weeks.
Instead of working off of weekly attendance numbers, we take periodic snapshots to figure out our percentages. A few weeks into each semester, we ask each group to give us an updated roster of who is actually attending their group. (p.117)
  • Couples groups vs Mens/Womens groups? Which are best for us in the season we are in now?
This is why couples groups will always struggle when it comes to being open and vulnerable. Most men will not open up in front of their spouse.  (p.119)
  • When would a director beyond a volunteer be needed in our system?
We have found at Cross Point that a volunteer coaching system can adequately care for up to fifty groups. If a part-time position (twenty to thirty hours) is not added at this point, the growth of groups will stall. (p.144)
Grab a copy of the book and begin asking questions about your own small groups system. Since there is several things in this book we are already implementing in our current system this isn’t an exhaustive list nor even the most relevant list for everyone.