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So far we’ve looked at Stanley and Willits first key – People Need Community – and their second key – Leaders Need Clarity – now we move on to look at the third key to building a small group culture – Churches Need Strategy. In order to draw out this third key they first discuss the reality that every community is know for something, what word would you like your community to be know by (Find Your Word, Chapter 7). Next the talk about the ways your word can be fulfilled in your community, and as you might expect small groups are the main feature to filling out your word/brand (Choose Your Strategy, Chapter 8). Once you’v got your word and strategy they encourage your to close your door and focus in on it and them (Close the Door, Chapter 9).

Find Your Word 07

Something comes to mind when the name of your organization comes up. Hopefully, whatever comes to mind is positive, but your church is associated with something in the eyes of your community [if they are even known by your community].” Such is how S&W open this chapter, Coke, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Bayer, Hershey, and Federal Express are all known for something; what are you as a church know for? Find your word and stick to it…

What are the things churches are most often known for? Evangelism, Worship, Doctrine, Recovery, and Service. Now in reality churches are known for just one thing but there are many churches were one of these definitely stand out. “The fact that a church may be known by one of these descriptions doesn’t mean that’s all they are known for. It simply is what they are best known for in their communities.” For North Point the word they wanted to be known for is Relational.

Finding your word according to S&W is helpful not just because it brings clarity to your strategy development, but because you often find words you don’t want to be know for as well. They stand as reminders of you failing or succeeding in your ministry strategy.

Choose Your Strategy 08

Where does strategy begin in the mission of God by his people implenting a clear one? S&W say it began with Moses’ need of administring justice in Exodus 18. Some of the lessons Moses had to learn as he implemented a clearer strategy are lessons we could all learn. Such as, “select capable people, train them, empower them, focus your efforts, and experience a longer, more enjoyable life. A great strategy. It’s simple to understand and easy to implement.”

It is at this point where S&W get vulnerable and real with their readers, small groups aren’t an option, they’re a necessity for community development in people’s relationships. Listen in as they share the place they felt God lead them, “What we soon discovered is that sustained spiritual growth is not well nurtured by an environment where people simply sit in rows, listening to messages in complete anonymity. Sustainted growth takes place where people are personally challenged and encouraged in their relationship with God and others. This is especially true when the challenges of life occur, and eventually those challenges come to everyone.” This is what small groups do according to S&W;

  • Groups Support Our Evangelism Strategy – S&W structure their worship time on Sunday with evangelism as a central part of the environment and experience, because they operate on the invite strategy, having small groups frees their members to go deep in small groups and invite people on Sundays. And it works for outsiders as well, people want to belong before they become.
  • Groups Decentralize Church Leadership and Care – Small group leaders as shepherds over small groups of the body means that the leadership team becomes increasingly broader.
  • Groups Enable More People to Serve – By focusing on small groups people aren’t forced to choose between classes or service.
  • Groups Help Develop Authentic Community – A home environment can’t be beat in terms of relationally intimacy, period.
  • Groups Offer Maximum Flexibility – Groups offer flexibility both when they meet and can offer it where they meet.
  • Groups Allow Us to Be Better Stewards – If more meetings happen of-site from the main facility more money is freeded up as well as the building itself to be used for the community around it.
  • Groups Remove the Primary Limits to Growth – According to S&W “The main limits to growth for churches tend to be space and parking. When you are out of either, you have no choice but to build more. We will never run out of room or parking with our groups strategy, because people are meeting at homes in neighborhoods around the city.”

Before some of you out there who don’t have small groups but have relationships and community thriving in your bodies get upset at S&W know this, they do acknowledge that other systems can work, small groups has been the approach they have chosen to use. Some of you may be wondering though, ok I got it small groups – right – but what happens once you’re in one, is the strategy merely to get us in one or is there something more??? Next chapter.

Close the Door 09

Bill Willits found out early on that sometimes the most effective thing for him to do is to close his door. As much as he wanted to operate on an open door policy all the time he found that for those he was with having someone walk in unanounced hurt their time and their relationships. Well according to S&W such is true also for small groups, closed groups are actually a good thing, not a bad thing. You may be asking yourself, what are closed groups? “By “closed groups,” I mean that we encourage no new additions to the group unless the entire group sings off.” North Point’s closed groups stay closed for at least 18-24 months and then their hope is that they multiply themselves by birthing a new group from them.

In order to sustain small groups North Point makes a promise to them, what is it you ask? “Our group promise is synonymous with the purpose statement for our community groups, which is “to provide a predictable small-group environment where participants experience authentic community and spiritual growth.” Now some of you out there may be laughing out loud right now, Small Groups predictable, yea RIGHT!!! But before you get ahead of yourself they are not saying that what is currently happening in the lives of the members at small groups will be predictable but rather WHO will be at them; as well as WHAT participants can expect from their group since everyone is made to sign a covenant. They also create clear values and guidlines for their groups to work through as well. They do this for predictability and for momentum in their community groups lives.

Now there is a danger to small groups that don’t sustain momentum, particularly when they end up as bad experiences and experiments, S&W say;

A group that is not allowed to experience relational momentum becomes compromised and can lead to pseudo-community and a bad group experience. A bad group experience leads to an unfulfilled promise and dissatisfied group “customers.” And dissatisfied group customers are a a bad advertisement for your church, especially if it’s the focus of your strategy.

In order to suport momentum North Point focuses in upon creating authentic community in their small groups. How do they define authentic versus artificial? Glad you asked, they do so through three words: accountabilitywhich involves inviting other people into your life to challenge you in your priorities and relationships; belongingfeeling accepted, connected, and comfortable with your group; and carepeople care for people they know well, period. Without any one of these authenticity breaks down, each is vital.

Now perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “But what happens when things get stale or ingrown because of the groups being closed?” Great question, S&W say that that is exactly why their community groups can remain closed for only a period of time (they point to Biblical wisdom like Ecclesiastes 3, for everything there is a season).

After Thoughts:

Branding entered the picture in force in chapter 7. Branding is such a controversial topic among pastors, some see it as the entrance of the business world into ecclesial philosophy, an entrance that means sinful accomodation. Others see it as a necessity, something that happens whether you want it to or not. That’s how S&W see it, and honestly that’s how I see it. People know you for something, if they know about you at all, and that something can be intentional on your end or hap-hazard, choose. The question for me isn’t to brand or not to brand, you’re already branded. The question for me, that they didn’t actually raise, is to brand for outsiders or to brand for insiders. Because you’re branded by each group differently you need to think along each line, how do I want to be intentional with outsiders and how do I want to be intentional with insiders (insiders includes how other surrounding churches and your own denomination will percieve you). Hopefully both groups know you by the same word, but getting there is immensly difficult.

In chapter 8 I thought their emphasis on Groups and the way they unpacked their multi-facited nature was great. I was a bit surprised by their thoughts on growth barriers being parking and space, but then again I’m not trying to accomodate 20,000 people every Sunday like them. In my mind they need to make a clarity point about growth. There they are talking about growth vertically-ie numerically, not horizontally-spiritually. They know this but it could be clearer. It would have been great to see them talk about the differences and similarities between small groups and house churches; between ordained pastors by a body of elders and the small group shepherds more…perhaps in future editions, perhaps.

In chapter 9 I got alot out of their discussion about having closed groups. To close or not to close, to be gender distinct or not to are two of the biggest questions small group pastors face in large churches with lots of 20’s and 30’s in them. I think raising the additional question of how to integrate the whole family into closed small groups would have been more helpful for my own context since we have a huge majority of young families. What do closed small groups look like for parents of toddlers, etc… I appreciate their discussion of what authentic community looks like but I noticed that they defined it largely along social/relational qualities and the kergyma element of the NT was left out. If Sunday is more seeker-sensitive then small groups have to be a solid integration of relational growth and theological growth otherwise the Word’s role in our spiritual development gets displaced. Now I think they probably do integrate it but they left that out of their discussion here which is an unfortunate oversight in my opinion…

All and all I thought the chapters were very good, and gave me things to think about.