Today’s blog post is a guest post by my friend Tom McCormick, Groups Pastor at Hope Church in Las Vegas, NV. Tom has provided leadership to the church’s groups ministry since 2010 and the Lord has used him in some pretty spectacular ways. I know we’ll all learn a lot from him in today’s post as he tells us the story of Hope Church’s incredible growth in its groups ministry. Tom shares the following:
I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in a southern culture and Sunday school played a huge role in my life. I learned much about God, the Bible, salvation, missions, and, yes, myself. What I didn’t know I was learning was how important the value of connection was.
Today, I still need connection – and so do you. As human beings, we have a natural tendency to separate ourselves from others, but that is not a godly trait. In fact, if we think about why God created us, we’ll see that the purpose was for relationship/connection. God wanted relationship with the part of creation He created in His “image” and His “likeness” and so here we are! To desire to be connected in community is a godly characteristic.
North American churches also have a tendency to place most of the emphasis on their Sunday worship service. This is not a bad thing; it’s just not complete when we are talking about real connection. Connecting in community can scarcely be done in a Sunday service. Think about all the “one anothers” described in the Bible: Love one another, confess your sins to one another, serve one another, etc. Some can take place in the Sunday service, but for the most part, most are better accomplished in the Sunday school or the small group.
Focusing only on the weekend event will not meet the need of community in the life of a Jesus Follower.
Acknowledge your Present Reality
In the Fall of 2010, our church recognized that we were deficient in the area of community. We talked about it a lot, but the truth was, our Sunday services were healthy, but our small groups ministry as a whole were lacking in number and health. We decided as a pastoral team that this needed to change. We preached a solo message called “Blindspot” to our congregation, basically apologizing for not leading them well in the area of connection and asking them to jump on board again into groups. For 4 straight months I worked on finding, attracting and training leaders for the groups because the truth is, no leader = no group. When it was time for the sermon series in February defining what exactly community was and why we needed them, we were amazed at the number of people who signed up and said, “I want to be in a small group!” After the 2-sermon series weekends, we went from 30 to 72 groups and from 285 people in groups to 989. We were thankful to God and ready for the task.
4 Steps to Growth in a Groups Ministry
Since 2010, we have more than three times that amount of groups and more than 3500 people on our small group rosters. We didn’t get there overnight and God’s hand on our effort is unmistakable. But there were four practical steps that we chose to take in that process.
- We recognized our need for groups
- We identified the reason for groups
- We acknowledged that groups weren’t working
- Our staff team put in hours of labor to see groups grow and develop
The Importance of the Pastor in Growing a Groups Ministry
But there is one significant part of the process I haven’t mentioned yet and that is how our senior Pastor played a major role then and still plays a role today. He recognized the deficiency first and wanted to change it. He made the apology to our congregation. He released me to administer my gifts in organization and people recruitment. He even attended our first small group training and gave me credibility with our people on what they would hear and learn for that day. He then stood up before our people and said these words,
“If you only have one hour per week to give to Hope Church, don’t attend the Sunday service, go to a small group.”
That statement sent us on the wave we are still riding. Sure, all of the infrastructure has to be there to create and maintain a healthy small group ministry, but senior pastors should never underestimate the influence they have.
I have found that when a pastor asks his staff to facilitate something he doesn’t support himself, that ministry won’t be seen as important.
In the past, we have intentionally mentioned small group in sermons, announcements, testimonies, videos, etc. These reasons have aided small group to become part of our DNA. While it is vitally important to add “small group” to any lingo of the church, I also know that when a pastor has a small group ministry to send people to, he can use his influence to direct them in that direction. Additionally, if he goes to small group, his people will too. When it isn’t important to him, it won’t be important to the people. If we really believe life change happens in community, why would that not be what we want our people to participate in?
I’ve come to an understanding that God has given our small group ministry success not only because of His plan and our team’s hard work. It is also because our pastor made it a priority in our church as well as in his own personal life. By the way, Sunday School and small groups obviously are different, but maybe not as much as you think. What your church calls what connection doesn’t make much difference. Why you have groups is what make the difference! If you change the lingo to “small groups” and do what you did in “Sunday school,” you’ll get the same result that made you change the name.