Over the years I’ve noticed three huge myths about small groups. These three myths are so pervasive and powerful that they have caused churches to avoid initiating small group systems. And when a church fails in its attempt at developing small groups that multiply, most likely the culprit is one of these three myths. That’s why I call them the “Big Three.” So let’s take a look at them and debunk them.
Myth Number One: Small Groups Multiply by Splitting
When I talk with people about small groups that multiply I often hear this initial response –“Our people don’t want to split up. They like each other and want to stay together.”
Well, listen carefully – effective small groups seldom split. That’s not ever the goal. Who in their right mind would want to get close to a group of people only to know the goal of the group was to be torn apart?
Most small groups multiply by the small group leader or apprentice, and perhaps one or two other people in the group, leaving to begin another group. This means all it takes for a small group to multiply is a leader who is capable of raising up his or her replacement and then moving on to begin a new small group. So there’s no splitting or dividing, just two or three adventurous people being sent out as missionaries by the group to start another group. Instead of a sad moment of splitting up, the birthing of another group becomes a celebration – the small group has accomplished its goal.
When I was a pastor, I always told my small group leaders “Never use the “S” or “D” words – split or divide. Instead we talked about the “M” word – multiplication. Our primary way of measuring the success of a small group was if it multiplied within eighteen months. Two things must happen for a small group to multiply: the leader has to raise up his or her replacement and unchurched, dechurched, or lost people have to be added to the group. So much of the upfront training of small group leaders needs to be focused on how to multiply the group.
If you want your small groups to have longevity and be the hub of your church, they must multiply. Multiplication should be a part of the DNA of every small group ministry from the beginning and should be taught to small group leaders as a key element of their leadership role. Failure to understand this principle is usually fatal to any small group system over time.
Myth Number Two: Small Groups Are Bible Studies
Sure, every effective small group I know uses Scripture. But small groups aren’t your typical Bible studies. Small groups use the Bible as a teaching guide with lessons practical enough that the group grows through shared experiences and life application of God’s Word. The goal isn’t learning the Bible; the goal is sharing life together and discovering how the love of God transforms hearts.
In small groups, instead of talking about life, people do life. When real relationships are formed, you find there is no subject that can’t be talked about openly. Of course the Bible is applied to those situations, but learning the Bible isn’t the goal of small groups. Small groups that multiply are not about content and they aren’t a data dump; they are about personal growth through sharing life together in ways that transform people’s lives.
One of the secrets to transforming lives in small groups is how well you help the small group leader understand that the goal of a small group is not Bible study or even the small group itself. The goal of a small group is leadership development and multiplication. Small group leaders are effective only if they raise up future leaders and multiply the group.
Sure, deep Bible learning and focused Scripture study have their place, but it’s not in a small group. You should make sure there are Bible studies available for those who want to attend them, but make sure your small groups are relationship-driven, not Bible study-driven.
And don’t think everything you’ve done in Sunday school is wrong – there’s nothing wrong with Sunday school. If your church has always had Sunday school and there’s not a chance it’s ever going away, that’s okay. Have Sunday school on Sunday and start a small group ministry during the week. One will be the place where your people do their Bible study, and the other can be the place where people share life together. Please don’t give up on your dream for this ministry just because you are in a traditional church. There’s no church style where small groups won’t work. You just have to create a system that will work for you.
Myth Number Three: The More Small Groups, the Better
Many effective small group systems I’ve encountered are the result of a second attempt at starting small groups. The first attempt failed or didn’t produce small groups that multiplied because they started with too many small groups for the number of effective leaders that were trained.
When starting your small group system it is best to keep the number of initial groups small enough that you can place an effective, seasoned leader in each group. You want the first small groups to go so well they create a positive buzz throughout your church so more people will want to get into a small group. It’s better to have a few effective small groups where your future small group leaders can become seasoned than to have lots of floundering small groups that create a less-than-positive buzz throughout the church. Many effective small group systems begin with one small group under the direction of the pastor and many of these folks go on to birth other small groups. The more effective the first few groups are, the more likely your small group system is going to thrive.
So What Are Effective Small Groups?
You’ve probably seen several definitions of small groups. Well, here’s one more. See if it works for you.
“Effective small groups are groups of no more than fifteen people that meet weekly or biweekly in homes throughout the community, sharing life together through a combination of fun, fellowship, Bible study, missions, and prayer.” At the heart of every effective small group system I’ve seen are the following:
- Sharing life together
- Leadership development
- Behavior modification
- Local mission
So, what are you waiting for? Start that first small group and see what God can do with it.