Growing a church through small groups
‘Church’ is what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other – Rowan Williams
Relationships are at the heart of the gospel. God, who is himself relationship, calls us into a relationship with one another and with him. In our context these relationships are best developed through small groups. Such groups can become the engine room of a church, offering possibilities of endless growth as they grow and multiply.
The small group teaching at TMT is built on the experience of Roger Morgan, the TMT Director. Roger started his first small group in Cambridge, many years before he was ordained. That group started with four people meeting weekly, and over the next four years grew to fifty people, mostly new Christians, and then multiplied into several groups. At Holy Trinity Leicester Roger, now ordained, began a small group in 1994. When he left Leicester in 2008, there were 65 groups, with 650 people involved in them. Roger is confident that if the right principles are followed this could happen in any church anywhere in the UK.
Our team is available to any church leader who wishes to start a small group ministry, or overhaul an existing one. One church leader writes:
We moved to Earl Shilton in 2012 and it soon became clear that it would really help the church members if they could support each other in their relationships with Jesus by more than just going to church on a Sunday. So we decided to set up a cell group. I knew Revd Roger Morgan from a previous church and enlisted his help. He gave tips on how to set up a group and advised us on how best to lead group meetings. He came to one of the meetings, kept in touch by phone and gave me regular encouragement as I shared how it was going. The original group has now become three groups; all have good numbers and some of those in the groups have decided to become baptised and/or confirmed. Roger continues to support us both in person and by phone.
In growing a small group ministry the first step is the most important. It is our experience that it is best to begin with just one group, led by someone who is motivated to see this group multiply in time into many groups. Normally, but not necessarily, the best person to lead this initial group will be the church leader. The second step is for that leader to recruit at least three group members – people who have three essential characteristics. They should be:
Faithful – if they say they will do something they will
Available – normally they will be there at the meetings
Teachable – groups grow best if the members have a strong trust in the group leader
With this start it is usually easy to recruit an additional new member from time to time. Gradually the group will grow, and eventually multiply into two groups. In time these two groups will become four groups, and so on. At TMT we have seen this happen many times, and we would love to walk alongside you while by God’s grace you help it to happen where you are.
Many churches have existing groups which have no ambition to grow and perhaps never will have. This is not necessarily a problem. It is true that these groups will rarely welcome new members and will grow very little; and true too that in such groups there is often strong opposition to the idea of multiplication. But it’s still the case that these groups do far more good than harm, and it is best to affirm their contribution to the church’s life, and allow them to carry on as they are.
In all churches there are some people who are not really suited to being in small groups. The main categories are people who are unable to make a consistent commitment to attending, and people who for whatever reason are absorbed with their own needs. Most groups can accommodate one such person and grow through their care of that person, but experience shows that if there is more than one such person in a group, it soon closes. Such people do best if they are placed in a group whose members all find themselves in the same position. If a church is to grow through small groups, it is essential to start with one group which is not inward looking, not ‘me’ centred, and is excited about the possibility of growth.
Choosing small group leaders
Good leadership is the key to success in small group ministry. Groups may have one leader, or sometimes two working together. The leaders will also hope to appoint assistant leaders from within their groups. There should be one leader or assistant leader for every five additional members. Leaders should be selected because they demonstrate the ability to explain things, a genuine concern for other people, and a love for God. They themselves must be faithful, teachable, and have enough time available to do the job well. Small groups fail mainly because people are appointed to leadership who do not have these qualities. Whenever you have good leaders you have good groups, and you will see growth.
Each leader and group should be supported by a coordinator who is responsible for no more than five groups, and visits them in rotation. The coordinator should be an experienced and successful small group leader. What normally happens at the beginning is that the church leader starts a group, grows it, multiplies it into two or more groups, and then acts as the coordinator for the groups that he or she is not leading.
The job description of a small group leader
This has four parts; all are essential. If any of these is missing, the small group will not work well.
The small group leader must be able to lead life-changing meetings
The small group leader must make time to care for the individual members
The small group leader must find ways of bringing new people into the group
The small group leader must select and train an assistant leader to share the work and be in a position to lead when the group multiplies
Support from The Mathetes Trust
Support is available from The Mathetes Trust for healthy churches which wish to develop an expanding small group ministry. This support has four parts.
We are available to walk alongside a church leader who wishes to develop a growing small groups ministry. We can give advice about the way that the initial group is selected, about group meetings, about pastoral care of group members, and about how to recruit new members. As the group grows, we can advise on when to divide successfully and amicably into two groups.
We are available to walk alongside a church leader who has multiplied groups and become a coordinator. If a church has several healthy groups, we are happy to meet with the group leaders and also to advise the coordinators.
We provide materials to enable the small group leaders to run life changing meetings. These have been written by experienced small group leaders, and are available from our website. They are not Bible study courses; all are designed to help participants develop an effective personal relationship with God and an appropriate ministry to others.
Mission teams. We are able to send a team of experienced missioners to work with your groups on a week of mission. This mission should lead to the formation of new groups, or add new members to existing groups.
Our small group materials
Season of renewal – A Lent course which provides a good introduction to small group life. This material is especially useful for traditional churches who wish to bring spiritual renewal in a non threatening format.
Beyond Ourselves – the first book in our discipleship series The God Who is There. An introduction to the Christian faith, based on informal discussion and shared activities, and accessible to those with no church background. It enables groups where faith is weak or non-existent to think through the issues and find a faith which is real and exciting. It can be followed by:
The New Community – This course helps groups to understand what it means to be part of the body of Christ. Groups will learn to pray, to worship, to love, to read the Bible, and to expect to meet with God as they meet with one another.
Shining Like Stars – This course helps group members to live for the glory of God in their daily lives.
Beautiful Lives – This course helps groups to share their faith with their friends and neighbours in simple, natural ways.
Following Jesus – Alison’s book on discipleship includes questions for group study.
All these can be ordered from our Publications page.