What’s the Point of Your Small Group?
By Michael C. Mack
Why does your small group exist? What’s your purpose? What are your goals?
Bill Willits, director of group life at North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia, tells what happened when that church first began meeting in the convention center in Atlanta. The electronic marquee that thousands of people would see every day advertised the church as “No Point Church.” The sign engineer could not fit the entire name on the marquee, so he took some creative liberties.
Of course, Willits says, this became the joke of the night, but it also provided Andy Stanley an opportunity to remind the new church of the need to stay focused on what God had called them to do.
So what has God called your small group to do? You can live either by default or design. A healthy group lives by design.
Our Church’s Story
When Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, assessed our small groups several years ago, we discovered that functioning by design was the biggest catalyst to group health and growth. We found a direct correlation between written goals and the level of authentic community, impact outside the group, and discipleship. Groups that had a covenant were also much more likely to grow numerically and reproduce themselves. Even more noticeable was that groups who had no goals and plans were the unhealthiest in all the other areas.
This makes sense. As the saying goes, “A failure to plan is a plan for failure.” The Bible has plenty to say about goals and plans. Read through the Psalms and Proverbs, and you can’t miss the wisdom of setting God-led and God-sized goals and plans. Jesus made these kinds of goals and plans in his ministry, and so did the early church.
God’s Goals and Your Group
Use the following steps to discover and then commit to God’s goals and plans for your group. Chapter 4 of my book, Small Group Vital Signs, has much more specific help on this topic. Also, a sample covenant and a “Goal-Setting User’s Guide” are included in the appendices.
Pray together—Set aside a time devoted to group prayer. Be creative, using scriptural prayers and psalms to help you surrender your planning to God. Consider Psalms 20, 33, or 40. Or rewrite the believers’ prayer in Acts 4:24-30 in your own words for your group.
Analyze where the group is now—Before you plan for the future, “confront the brutal facts of your current reality.” Author Jim Collins says, “When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident.”
Recognize your group’s values—What does the group value? This is the starting point because what you value determines everything else. Kingdom values include things like relating to unchurched people, discipleship, serving others, and leader development. Your group’s values should come from your church or your small group ministry.
Discover your vision—A vision is a big-picture view of what your group exists for. It’s a picture of a preferred future and the destination. Jesus gave the early church a specific vision: They would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and eventually the whole world. Your group’s vision should reflect your church’s vision statement. (It may be exactly the same.) Don’t spend a lot of time here.
Determine your mission—A mission is the business with which your group is charged. Your group’s mission should be tied to your church’s mission statement, but it probably won’t be exactly the same. Your group has a specific calling from God to accomplish his vision and purposes. What has he called your group to achieve within your church’s bigger mission? Keep your mission and vision statements short and memorable.
Clarify your group’s goals—Think in terms of what a “win” for your group might look like. Your win simply clarifies your mission.
Develop your strategy—Now it’s time to make plans based on your values, vision, mission, and goals. This step answers the “how” question. How will we carry out our goals and get to our win? What’s our strategic plan? Your plans will include things like when and where you meet, how you will reach out to others, how you will involve the children, your strategy for discipleship, and much more.
Employ your tactics—Tactics are the lowest level of planning. They are the very specific procedures or expedients you use to carry out your plans and reach your goals. Tactics are dynamic and short-term. Your tactics may include a hosting schedule, what time you meet, who in the group will play what roles, and others.
Put it all in writing—Be sure to make all this part of your written agreement or covenant. Keep it handy to discuss several times a year. Be careful not to overly formalize the process or use of the covenant. It is not a legal document members must sign in their own blood. Be careful with those in your group who tend toward the legalistic side of things. (You know who they are, unless it’s you, and then everyone else knows who it is!)
Goals and plans are not the panacea for every small group malady, but the time you spend here will be well worth it. As I’ve worked with unhealthy groups, I’ve found that the process of developing goals and plans as I’ve outlined here has helped those groups get healthy in all the other areas. Understanding the God-given point of your small group will change your trajectory!
Michael C. Mack is author of Small Group Vital Signs (TOUCH Publications, www.touchusa.org) as well as many other small group books and studies, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? available from Standard Publishing (www.standardpub.com).