by Randall Neighbour, Ministry President
(Taken from a 2-day seminar for pastors you can secure here.)
[While this isn't the only thing you should read before you start your first group, it may be the most important information about holistic small group ministry (HSG's or cell ministry) you will find on the internet. Note that this advice comes from watching pastors hastily form groups and do it all wrong. In fact, they mess it up so badly that no one wants to attempt it a second time to get it right! If you want to get it right the first time and learn from the mistakes of many other pastors, take a deep breath, ask God to arrest all your thinking and planning and notions about small group ministry, then read this article.]
Think organism, not organization
Pastors who launch highly successful HSG's in their churches do not view small groups as just another program that runs along side all the other programs in their church. It's a completely new way of life for American consumer-minded Christians and the churches they attend and the pastors who lead them. Moreover, a healthy HSG ministry must grow slowly and take on a life of its own for it to become a permanent new way of life for the members of the group and your church. For this reason, you must abandon any plans to launch groups such as:
Just to make sure the nail is pounded into the coffin lid on this issue, let me reiterate: launching a bunch of groups at once does not create "critical mass" for a successful transition to HSG's. It creates a critical mess! If you don't want to launch a sickle HSG ministry, do not launch your groups in the way you have done in the past with other intiatives or new programs.
Success begins with YOU, the lead pastor
Love your church members enough to be the first leader of the first experimental group. Like Moses, lead your people into relalation, organic life ministry by example! Prioritize relationships with the other members of your first group; ask them to serve you; selflessly serve them; get to know their unchurched friends in social settings (vs. inviting them to a church service to meet you); and last but not least, lead the first group the way you want every leader to lead a group in the future.
If you don't have the time, energy, or inclination to lead that first group for as long as it takes to reach people for Christ through relationships and see the members of that first group transformed by biblical community, you are not yet ready to begin your transition. [Over and over, pastors tell us that they failed with HSG's because they delegated leading the first group to a staff pastor. Looking back, they tell us they did not own the vision enough to lead the church body into HSG life themselves, abandoning other priorities that were no longer as high of a priority.]
Begin with a prototype group and make it work before you attempt to replicate it
If you launch one group that you lead, and you work at it until you get it right, you will have one healthy pattern group to replicate. The key is not to be in a hurry. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Find the wisdom in being a tortoise, who wins the race every time!
Relationships take time, and relationships with lost people that result in conversions takes even longer for some Christians. Do not set a multiplication date for your first group, but do set a multiplcation mile marker as a group. In other words, let the group decide what should be achieved for the group to be a success! One example might be:
"When we have been irreversably transformed by living in biblical community and we have won three people to Christ who have joined this group and are pursuing God with all their heart, we can launch a second group."
This statement should be created by all the members of your first group... not you alone. Feel free to create your own personal goals for that first group, but ask the members to share what they are willing to commit to doing vs. telling them what you want them to do. [This is the second thing that pastors who have fallen flat on their faces tell me was a brick wall in their transition.]
Become a voracious reader and visit churches doing HSG's that reach people for Christ and disciple them.
Read everything you can get your hands on. Begin with foundational books about the relational nature of God, the centrality of Christ in a HSG, and the practical aspects of biblical community. Then, read books about how to make successful transition from programs and church building-centered ministry to cell-based ministry. Next, read up on how to be a healthy group leader and the kind of group coach a leader and his or her group needs to feel fully supported. You'll also need to develop a discipleship path to maturity for the first converts who come to Christ as a result of your relational evangelism efforts.
As you are reading, visit churches that are doing HSG's successfully, which may be very different from those churches who say they have cell groups/small groups or have a high percentage of their people in small groups! Visit churches who have group members who are actually storming the gates of Hell and setting captives free, and doing it regularly and successfully! [Should you need help finding these churches, visit the networking area of our web site and look up churches in your denomination or geographical area or contact our offices at 800-735-5865 and ask me for some examples. I'll be happy to help you find a great HSG-driven church to visit that is doing groups well.
My ministry is here to help you succeed with HSG's!
With telephone support, one-to-one coaching, our on-site training for your leaders and groups, dozens of resources, and the free articles on this site, there's no excuse for failure! My ministry stands ready to serve you and I'm anxious to do it!
One last tip for success with HSG's
Consider launching a HSG ministry as if you were planting a new church inside your existing congregation. The way the members of the church plant will build the church and be the church may be completely different from the way the existing church does church.
May God richly bless you as you enter into biblical community and harness it to reach your world for Christ!
President, TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc.