By Micah Fries
The church community is only as strong its foundation. Spiritual progress is dependent upon intentional, strategic effort by those providing leadership. The church has been given but one commission, namely to make disciples. However, most churches seem to measure everything but disciples.
In a recent study by Lifeway Research, we discovered that disciple-making is not happening at nearly the rate we think it is. What’s more, the single greatest tool to make growing disciples—groups—is significantly under-utilized and underappreciated by pastors.
The research shows that most pastors believe groups are important. But there’s a disconnect between what pastors believe and what churchgoers who are not in groups perceive. The people in the pews, who are not in groups, largely believe groups are not important to their pastors and leaders. In other words, discipleship through groups is an aspirational value for pastors, but often not a realized one among all church attendees.
With that said, we also found that one of the vital elements of effective disciple-making through groups is the primacy of God’s Word in those groups. Regardless of their primary purpose, groups must be gathered around the Bible or they won’t produce disciples. So how can church leaders help their groups gather well around the Word of God? Allow me to suggest three helpful steps.
You may think this would be self-evident, but we found that pastors are largely not providing leadership for the groups in their churches. In fact, according to our research, the majority of pastors and church leaders have no clue what is being taught in their groups. Almost two-thirds of pastors tell us the person primarily responsible for selecting the curriculum for the group is the group leader. And a large number of those do so without help or direction from the pastor or staff.
But when we interviewed more than 1,000 small group leaders, we found more than 75 percent say they want direction in how they lead their small group. If you are a pastor, your people want your help in planning and leading their groups.
Unfortunately, the people in your church have likely come to believe that groups don’t mean that much to you. One way you can help change that—and make God’s Word paramount—is to become more involved in the process.
One of the easiest and most practical ways to do this is to be personally involved in the selection of your church’s curriculum. Help your small group leaders choose curriculum that helps accomplish your church’s purpose and highlights the Word of God.
Develop a plan
Not only are pastors not involved in their small groups, few have a strategic discipleship plan for their church. Part of that is due to their personality type. Most pastors I know are not primarily strategic thinkers. They got into ministry because they are people focused, not because they love spreadsheets and long-range planning committees. Pastors are generally in ministry because they want to be around people and see those people grow in their relationship with God. This is a good thing.
However, it’s hard for people to grow when there is no strategic plan—centered on God’s Word—to make disciples.
If you aren’t by nature a strategic thinker, take heart, because your church has some strategic thinkers in it. Whether the people in your church are in the agricultural industry, education, or finance or they are businessmen and women, they have to think strategically or their businesses will not succeed. Ask a couple of them if they will help you develop a plan to make disciples.
As you make your plan, remember two things. First, keep it simple. Your strategy must be a simple, easy-to-understand process by which people go from being far from God to walking with God. Second, remember the content of the strategy is often less important than your fidelity to that strategy. In other words, make a good, simple plan and stick to it.
You can’t prioritize groups and emphasize God’s Word unless you are personally involved in groups. You and every pastor and senior volunteer leader at your church should be actively involved in a group. What’s more, I would recommend that (if possible) you not lead that group. Show your people that gathering around the Word of God in a group matters so much that you are there, even when you are not in charge. Show them the importance of submitting yourself to the authority of God’s Word by committing to be in a group every week, and see what a difference that makes.
Micah Fries (@MicahFries) is director of ministry development at Lifeway.