Friday, September 08, 2006

FAQ: What if the church has a bad taste in its mouth because small groups were tried and failed in the past?

A lot of people have a bad taste in their mouths for cell groups/small groups because they have been promised “life changing community” that never materialized.

I think the best way to re-start the small group discussion is by establishing the Biblical precedent and importance of community and discipleship—this needs to come in various forms in the life of the church. Pulpit time on these concepts is important. Then, create a system or program or model that fits the culture of your church. Maybe you don’t call them “small groups” or “cell groups.” It’s kinda silly, but sometimes nomenclature can change the way people think/respond to new things.

Most importantly, don’t just copy someone else’s model. I think that’s the best advice I can give. Too many churches try to copy another church’s model, and it just doesn’t work. Willow Creek spent 7 years developing their program. Yoido Full Gospel in Korea has overhauled their system at least 3 times. It took John Wesley 15 years to develop his model of class meetings that eventually led to the creation of the United Methodist Church. They tweaked and re-engineered and re-programmed to make their discipleship model mesh with the culture of their church. There are definitely things we can and should learn from them, and many principles are transferable. But finding your own unique rhythm and style of community will be a process. I think a lot of church small groups fail because they try to put their church on a program that was specifically designed for another church in a different community (and maybe a different country) and then they expect the new program to fly on autopilot. It takes a lot of work to disciple people!

There are really two ways you can go about transitioning. The first is the frog in the kettle approach. A slow transition. In this approach, use the existing structure (i.e., Sunday School) but incorporate a greater level of community, commitment, transparency, and discipleship challenge. This method takes longer and requires you to be extremely intentional about developing your leaders.

The second approach is the Big Bang. In this method, you throw all the existing structures and programs out the window and totally re-wire the entire discipleship framework and environment. You will face a lot of conflict and criticism for this method, but sometimes it’s the only approach. With the Big Bang, I would put in overtime hours to prep my leaders to get them to understand, own, and help implement the new vision when it’s implemented.


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