I’ve recently been reading through Lead Small, by Reggie Joiner and Tom Shefchunas. Lead Small is unique in that it is written for the small group leader. It walks the reader through 5 big ideas that every small group leader needs to know. I recommend it, and recommend the conversations that come from it with our small group leaders!
I believe that kids and students need relationships to grow spiritually, and I’ve worked hard everywhere I’ve ever served to create a system that breeds leaders leaning into kids through relationships. I could insert story after story after story here of how God has fully changed a students life through a small group leader. I sit in meetings every Monday morning, and listen to stories of small group wins pour in from every family ministry area of our church. I believe it works, and I believe it enough to prioritize it for all 3 of my kids (not to mention my own community group.)
But small groups do present one very big risk. This risk is oftentimes the very reason that churches don’t do small groups. In fact, I’ll be bold enough to say that 99 times out of 100 this is the ONE reason churches don’t do small groups for kids and students.
When it’s bad it’s really bad. When it’s bad it keeps people away, and that’s not the goal! The weirdest part of all is that it can be bad even when there is a fantastic group happening right next door.
Look at the numbers on this. With no small groups, I have to concentrate in ONE area. I have to make this one 60 or 90 minute event as influential as possible, and many out there do a great job at this. Sure, there are many facets to this one area, but down to it’s core it is ONE event in ONE moment with ONE big impact.
Now there are a million different ways to get kids and students into smaller groups (I’m speaking in very general terms), but when you commit to small groups you are taking that one impact opportunity and you are turning it into 10 or 20 or 30 different areas where things could go right or wrong.
In a way our greatest strength becomes our greatest weakness. Our 3rd grade boys group is totally hitting it out of the park, and the leader is way more than awesome…but our 8th grade girls group is struggling to get any momentum, with spotty attendance and no teenagers willing to invite anyone to this terrible experience. It’s a risk, and I can tell you from experience that the danger is always there. There will always be some frustrations and struggles, but the wins are more than worth it.
What do you think keeps churches and leaders from committing to a true small group experience for their kids and students?
We work with some amazing leaders, all of us do. There are dynamic all-stars all around us. They create safe places for kids and students to grow up. They give of their time, willingly by the way. They lean into our kids on the issues that matter. They oftentimes invest hours of their own prayer time for the kids and students we love so dearly. But here is another truth about these people as well that we often don’t want to speak of…they also leave.
It’s true. Good people always leave eventually. You were probably one of these people yourself; you served, grew, and gave yourself to something…and then it was time for you to leave. It’s not a bad thing, really. Living in college towns for years has taught me that I need also be prepared for turnover in my leadership. Our college kids will graduate college, and they will move away to start their lives in new cities and at new churches. There comes a time that I begin to prepare them for leaving. As we are faced with the prospect of leaders leaving (for all the right reasons), we can and should be building some things into these leaders.
Leaders leave, and I don’t have to fear the consequences of them walking away. I can lead with confidence in the moment I live and serve in, and that will bring the necessary boldness for a new day down the road.
1. I have to convince them that what they do is long-term. Even though there will be job moves, relocations, and life changes; there is still a very future oriented impact they have. Reminding them that the kids and students they invest in will keep reaping from their time with them, will encourage them to replace themselves.
2. I want to introduce them to all that the church can be in the world today. Yes, they love our church. But, they also need to love THE church. It’s that love and passion that will help them transition wherever they go. When they know that they are a strong, but small, part of the entire church then they will be encouraged to replace themselves well.
3. I will model apprenticing and mentoring for them. I will be working to replace myself as well, and therefore always keeping the cycle of leaders strong in every organization I lead into. When I model it, they will be encouraged to replace themselves as well.
- It’s important that whoever leads the team have mentoring, disciple-making, and high-level people skills in their repertoire. As the leader at our church, I’ve worked hard to try and increase my skills in these areas. However, I’ve seen some churches hire the “most successful” pastor on their staff and then that leader struggles big-time because he’s more about the end-game ministry that he is about the big picture leading of a team.
- It HAS to be the long-term vision of the senior leaders of the church. If it’s more of a pencil-pushing delegation of tasks, then it won’t work long term. Sounds harsh, but I’ve seen it bear out many times. If the Senior Pastor is simply trying to reward excellence by allowing the family teams to merge, then it won’t work. It has to come from a real desire to see ministries working with the families in the church come together to lock arms and combine resources to help everyone be successful.
- Be prepared for change. Anytime that another layer is added between a pastor and the senior leaders of the church, it can get tricky. NextGEN ministry is no exception.
- It can work. In the places where I’ve worked, when we started communicating as one team to one family, the families in our church began to notice. It starts with simple things like a church-wide family picnic with all the family teams working together; and then moves into more strategic activities. Yes, I advocate for food-related family and church events.
- It’s important to involve the entire staff of the NextGEN team into the conversation for the future. Together at the same table, sharing the same vision, and creating the same goals for all of the team. It can bring people together, and help everyone understand each other in a new way. (I’ve used the Orange Leaders Handbook to help us craft a strategy that fit our church.)
- There are tons of churches moving into this model of combining what were solo ministries into combined ministries, and there are tons of models of what that should look like. It’s my believe though, that each church is different and therefore each church has to tweak, create, and adjust the models to fit their churches’ over all vision, mission, and values. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to church staff structures.
It’s impossible to tell people what I do without the words team and teamwork being heard. I work in a church so I work with people that go to that church. I work in those environments for kids and students, so I work with kids and students. That much is obvious. But what I really do is lead the teams that lead those areas specifically. To further complicate it, I lead a team of leaders that lead their own teams. Take me to coffee sometime, and I’ll tell you about this team of all-stars I have the privilege of leading now.
But, what is a team? A team is collection of people gathered together to accomplish one singular purpose. Easy enough to understand, right? If I’m creating a hockey team, I need a collection of hockey players. My team won’t work if I put 3 hockey players with 20 people that can’t ice skate. Get that? A team is a collection/group/cohort that works together to accomplish-do-achieve one singular purpose.
Let’s go to the Bible on this. Teamwork matters.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. If it’s cold, two can sleep together and stay warm but how can you keep warm by yourself. Two men can resist an attack that would defeat one man alone. A rope of three cords is hard to break. (TEV) We are better together than we are on our own.
- Nehemiah 4: When the Israelites were rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem, the work got tough and they got discouraged. Finally, they just gave up. So Nehemiah reorganized the work into teams. Half would stand guard with their spears and swords and protect everyone. The other half would work. Then they’d alternate their positions. He posted everyone by groups and families, so they could encourage and support each other.
- Mark 6:7: When Jesus sent people out in ministry; he sent them out in twos. He did not expect them to minister alone.
- Acts 24: Paul specifically mentions seven people who were part of him ministry team. He brought others along, not only to train them, but also to keep him encouraged.
BTW: There is a great book by John Maxwell, titled “Teamwork 101″; you should check it out.