They Are Not Sunday School Warmed Over – Pastorpedia on Small Groups

In this issue of Pastorpedia, pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about small groups.
Sunday and home groups are probably the second most important gatherings our churches have—after worship services. So they deserve high priority for the pastor and staff.
This month we checked them, and urge you to check yours. Are they easy to enter? Do newcomers get invited? Is your pastoral care done through the groups?
Are there so many varieties of them that it can be confusing? Can church “groupies” be in so many of them that their schedule is too crowded for unchurched and even their own families?
They are not just a class that has a teacher and gives an envelope or offering to the Sunday school super who collects them after the first bell!
Knute, Jeff, Jim~in community!

Download the PDF, or scroll down to watch and read.

What are the main goals of your group?
Jeff Bogue

  1. The main goal of our groups is to foster biblical community. We believe it’s impossible to fully embrace the calling of the Christian life unless you are willing to share your life with others and allow them to share their lives with you. Our groups are biblically based, relationally driven, and they are the discipleship tool of the church.
  2. In the sermons we seek to inspire and intrigue, and in the groups we seek to disciple that truth into someone’s life.
  3. Groups also serve as a very strong “anchor” point for people in the church. The larger the church, the more critical this is. People need to feel that they are known, and small groups meet this need.
  4. Care: most of our “pastoring” is done through our groups—babies born, widow care, hospital visits, etc. The group leaders are the boots on the ground for these type of care issues.
  5. Our groups really are the backbone of the ministry life of the church. People would feel the most connected relationally and spiritually through their engagement and participation in groups.

Jim Brown

  1. We talk often at Grace about reducing our circles, going from the large circle to the small circle. The best way to truly get to know someone is to reduce your circle to build real community.
  2. This is where the real sharpening can take place, so we long for our small groups to develop real accountability, the kind that keeps us on our toes to be more like Jesus in our actions.
  3. We also long to see our groups not remain in the holy huddles but develop real evangelistic mission to them. We take the lesson we have studied and become the hands and feet and voice of Jesus!
  4. These groups become the mooring point of real life on life so that the “one another’s” of caring and shepherding take place.
  5. We long for the groups to have real growth by reproducing themselves with other starter groups that have been birthed from each group. Groups must not last forever or they will have the tendency to lose their evangelistic goals.
  6. These groups have become the real lifeline of connection and personal growth as we talk life out together.

Knute Larson

  1. Community or connections—everything like Bible study or food or prayer or pastoral care—is done with relationships, in friendship, with joyful community, or love. If there is not warm community they might as well get the Bible study from a DVD, the food at a restaurant, and the prayers in the closet.
  2. Pastoral care. After 49 years of doing this—now argue with that!—I cannot understand why churches, large or small, do anything but push the care to the groups.
  3. Fun.
  4. Bible content that hits the heart. Not just facts. (Where did Jesus go when He left Capernaum? Answer: Nazareth—that will change your heart!)
    How do you manage them?

Jeff Bogue

  1. Our groups are overseen by a combination of pastors and lay people.
  2. To be a Life Group leader at Grace Church you must commit to ongoing training and ongoing accountability. We have lay people who coach groups and staff people who coach the coaches.
  3. We also have different types of groups:
    1. Short-term groups that meet from 6 to 8, weeks called Connect Groups
    2. Permanent groups that we call Life Groups
    3. We practice biblical community or small groups through all the church ministry. From children through senior adults, every level and aspect of ministry at Grace Church would have a strong small group component.
  4. We use a coaching system in which experienced groups leaders will coach our newer leaders. The coaches are the first uplink for problems or struggles, and the pastoral staff would be the second tier of help.
  5. Our group leaders would be the highest level of “lay” leadership in the church. They truly serve as pastors of their groups. They provide care, lead in discipleship, and at times will even baptize and serve communion.

Jim Brown

  1. We have a pastor that leads, trains and overseas our small groups.
  2. We believe that small groups happen in different ways too. We have men’s small groups in our Fight Club ministry led by people who care and shepherd. We have women’s and youth small groups, too.
  3. It is critical in the selection process that the right leaders are chosen; this is done by interviewing and watching their lives.
  4. We have a closed Facebook page that is managed by a leader who allows daily interaction to take place. Questions, suggestions, wisdom, and prayer requests are shared regularly. This also allows for fluid decisions to be made that often are thwarted by regularly scheduled meetings. It gives a place to store files, photos, and information about each other.

Knute Larson

  1. Every ministry in the church—all 30 of them—should have a point person on staff, who gives vision and pastoral leadership to these ministries. So one person on staff has responsibility. Then the volunteer managers help with details and events. I think the same person should be leader of Sunday and home ABFs (whatever you choose to call them) because they meet the same purposes.
  2. More on #1! Sunday groups and home groups are “apples and apples,” not “apples and oranges.” A mixed group of 10 to 15 in a home or restaurant will not be more transparent than 25 to 35 in the Sunday ABF. The “oranges” are the true discipleship groups of 3-7 all men or all women that can arise out of these Sunday and home groups, or are started by every staff member behind the scenes.
  3. Because they are tied with worship and mission as the three main ministry emphases of the church, they should receive just as much publicity and strategic planning and pastoral concern.
  4. Ask each Sunday or home group to have a leader or host, a teacher, a care captain or couple, and a mission captain. (And CE can give you brief job descriptions for all four.) The old way, emphasizing only content, is to have a teacher and some listeners. People need community, not just content!
    Consider this!

Jim Brown

Most people can only know 60+ people at one time and most people can truly only ever really know 8-15 people closely at one time. Small groups allow deep rich connection to take place and remove the excuse people have of saying, “it’s so big I don’t know anyone.”

Knute Larson

  1. For sure have this team of leaders report to the point person on staff.
  2. True discipleship and accountability groups that are the “oranges,” differ from these groups. They are not a program—I often get asked, “What is the best discipleship program for our church?”—but groups that start by staff or the solo pastor and reproduce every two years. TLC: time together, love for sure, and content of the Bible that meets and changes the heart.
  3. Groups and discipleship are often the laissez-faire area of church life!

Pastorpedia is produced monthly by three experienced pastors: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years. Pastorpedia is brought to you by CE National. Visit for more issues and to read the bios of our contributors.

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