The name of the particular church has not and will not be revealed. This is done out of respect for the church's willingness to let me reveal their answers. Their answers are very informative either way.
Church Denomination (if any) _Vineyard USA__
Age of Congregation _22 years old__ Number of pastors on staff __approx 20_
1. Approximately what percentage of your regular attendees participates in at least one small group on a regular basis? What percentage is your church's goal?
Approximately 36% of our regular attendees participate regularly. Our goal is 100%, as small groups are by far our most effective discipleship mechanism. More realistically we’d love to see 75%, since everyone isn’t ready for the small group experience.
2. How many worship services do you have each week? 4 Average AM attendance: 6,000
3. Who is primarily responsible for oversight of your small group ministry (e.g., layperson(s), senior pastor, staff pastor, etc.)? Is this person or people paid or volunteer?
We have a senior director of Small Groups. He is paid and a pastor, with advanced degrees in counseling and missions.
4. What level of oversight does your small group ministry leadership team strive for? In other words, how consistent with your church's mission are the "official" small groups which meet?
Our leadership team strives for consistent contact with the small group coaches and leaders, enough to ensure that they are given the support they need and that their groups are healthy, but enough freedom to allow them to grow their leadership gifts and build strong, healthy relationships with the group members. Our groups are consistent with the church’s mission in that our goal for them is to be accepting, Christ-centered, loving and outward focused.
5. Are there now, or have there ever been any problems associated with your small groups? Please elaborate.
Any time you’re dealing with people you’re going to have problems – it’s the nature of ministry. There are group leaders who aren’t healthy enough to lead a group, and have issues of their own to deal with, there are members who are dealing with issues too large for a lay person small group leader to handle, there’s the issue of finding enough leaders and coaches to grow the ministry, and not overworking the volunteer leaders that we do have. There are also leaders who refuse to be connected to the larger structure and be accountable.
6. If yes, how are those problems typically handled?
Problems are handled relationally – the small group coach or pastor, or director if need be, will talk through the problem with the leader. Our small group pastors have had extensive training and experience handling difficult situations. As far as finding enough leaders, we continue to network and are on the lookout for qualified leaders or eager but not yet qualified leaders, who may not be serving presently or may be serving in other ministries and looking for a change.
7. Do you provide initial or ongoing training for leaders of small groups? If yes, on a formal or informal basis? How often do you provide it? In what context?
We do provide basic classroom 101 training for small group leaders formally, quarterly for new leaders. Also, our prayer ministry and Growth & Healing ministry provides church-wide trainings that we encourage our leaders to attend. We also encourage them to attend deeper Bible study classes offered during the week. The coach and/or small group pastor, in talking with the leader, can pinpoint areas where more training is needed, and direct the leader appropriately.
8. What kinds of requirements do you have for potential leaders before they are recognized as such? If you have "rogue" leaders who are not trained, how does your leadership team handle an issue like that?
Our requirements are that they have attended our church for at least 6 months, and through a personal interview with a small group pastor, are seen to be teachable and have integrity. We then have them go through 101 training and follow up with them again.
9. What kind of small group curriculum does your church use, if any? How strictly is use of this particular curriculum is enforced? How so? How major of a concern is right theology in regards to small groups (compared to Christian fellowship and formation)?
We don’t use a specific curriculum. For a while our church produced its own curriculum and groups were encouraged to use that, but they’ve always had the freedom to use what appeals to them. We also have a list of recommended curriculum that our team put together. Right theology in regards to small groups is very important, along with Christian fellowship and formation – that’s another reason for the relationship between small group leaders and coaches or pastors.
10. What particular types of small groups does your church body officially recognize (e.g., service groups, Bible study, support, fellowship, accountability, 12-step program, etc.)?
We have a Growth & Healing ministry, and that’s where the groups that are more geared toward recovery and dealing with specific issues fall. Our small groups are primarily discipleship groups, not service groups. They are mainly Bible study and fellowship groups; most groups include support because of the relationship and groups are encouraged to be outward focused and serve others, in their community and in general.
11. How significant is the concept of small groups as compared to other components of your church’s overall ministry (e.g., worship services, evangelism, compassion, corporate prayer, etc.)? It is very significant. Small groups are our main discipleship strategy.
12. Do your small groups primarily function as a means of evangelism to new believers, or discipleship to existing members? Why? How do you separate and/or incorporate these two goals within the small group context?
Primarily they are a means of discipleship, although we do have some people interested in starting “seeker” groups, that are less about discipleship and all about asking questions. People are encouraged to invite their non-Christian friends and neighbors to their small group as well, so in that context they’re a means of evangelism.
13. Has your church always sponsored small groups? If not, what ministry or service (if any) was sacrificed or minimized in order to make room for small groups in the church community? How were they initiated? Were they promoted as necessary for the well being of the church, or as an "add-on" to an already full list of voluntary church activities?
The church started out of small groups, about 2 years before we ever had weekend celebrations. Although the amount of promotional emphasis on small groups has varied over the years we have always seen them as essential. They have always been seen as the place to really grow as a believer in the context of real relationships as well as the front lines of extending care.
14. What would you consider the primary reason that your church encourages and supports small groups?
We believe that people grow best in relationships, and become more like Jesus when they have a chance to use what they learn in the sermon practically with other people. It’s one thing to learn about resolving conflict in a Biblical way – it’s another thing to resolve conflict with your small group leader or member in a Biblical way. Small groups are the practice field for the skills and insights people learn in the church setting. Also people weren’t created to live life alone. We need other people.
15. What would you consider your most pressing concern in regards to small groups?
Right now it would be finding enough qualified leaders and coaches, so as to allow the small group pastors ample time to mentor and disciple their present coaches.
16. How do you handle difficult situations that arise that might be too complex for lay leaders (e.g., personalities that attempt to sway new believers, dysfunctional relationships, stalking, etc.)? Do you require leaders and/or participants to sign a "covenant of confidentiality"?
Part of the small group covenant is confidentiality. The small group coach and pastor are a phone call away, so anything that’s too much for a lay leader to handle can be referred to the coach or pastor.
17. Does your church currently host Sunday School classes for adults? Why or why not? In what ways does that potentially impact your small group ministry?
We do not host Sunday school classes, but we do have a Wednesday night “Digging Deeper” series – we urge people to get involved in a small group, and the experiences are similar. That’s probably a good thing for small groups, since people don’t have to choose, or add one more thing to their schedule.
18. How are small groups defined in your church? What size do you consider to be a small group? When a "small group" becomes a "large group" is it divided, or allowed to continue to grow? If divided, how is that handled in a way that satisfies all parties and encourages positive growth?
The very loose definition is that the main purpose of a small group is discipleship, and is usually made up of 8 to 12 people who meet regularly for fellowship, and some kind of Biblically-based learning. They are also encouraged to do outreach in some form or another. Our groups normally divide when they become too large to be effective. The coach or pastor will assist the leader in determining the best way to divide. Hopefully there is an apprentice leader who can take half of the group.
19. In what ways does your church continue to promote and support the concept of small groups (e.g., website, newsletter, foyer advertising, announcements, etc.)?
We have weekly space in the program – continual small group listings on display, events throughout the year that are advertised during the service, and frequent mentions from our senior pastor about the importance of small groups, and of his small group. We also have a monthly e-newsletter.
20. Based on your experience, what advice would you give to a church body that is contemplating adding small groups into its mix of community activities?
It’s life changing, but it takes a good deal of prayer and work to have a healthy system. There need to be enough people able and willing to lead, to coach and to oversee the coaches. Be aware that wherever you have people, you’ll have problems – personalities, quirks, needs, etc.; it’s never a perfect system and it’s never dull. Allow leaders the freedom to use their leadership gifts – don’t suffocate them with too much strictness. It’s a strange paradox that people need and want to belong and be loved, but most people are afraid to open up and get involved. Overcome this by making sure your leaders are well trained and your groups are safe and welcoming. Also make it a priority that your leaders return calls and e-mails as soon as possible, if someone is asking about the group. Few things turn people off of small groups faster than being ignored. Everyone wants to matter – that’s just basic customer service.