We’ve arrived at the fifth of the five keys to building a small group culture. Here’s the links to the previous keys we’ve looked at;

  1. People Need Community
  2. Leaders Need Clarity
  3. Churches Need Strategy
  4. Connection Needs Simplicity
  5. Process Needs Reality

From the administration, coaching, and shepherding end of things this last section of S&W’s book really hit home for me. A lot practical advice, humbly acknowledging that this is what worked best for them in their setup. Nothing here will surprise you but a lot of questions you have if you’re pastoring a larger number of community groups will get confirmed. It would be very beneficial to compare their approach with Redeemer NYC, Willow Creek, and Park Community; but I don’t have the time or eyes on the ground to do that currently.

S&W unfold just what “Process Needs Reality” looks like in three chapters – Deal in reality, Train less for more, Set up for success.

Deal In Reality

S&W open this chapter up by noting the rise in popularity Reality TV Shows got almost immediately, they say its because people are tired of personless scripts that are only an inch deep, they want real drama, real people, real life. The desire for something ‘real’, something ‘authentic’ is good and right; and small group coaching needs to be real-istic with people’s lives and commitment levels. For S&W what this meant is that they needed to cut down their 60 meetings a year to only 20 for training and serving with their leaders. They challenge their readers to ask a simple question, Are your leadership processes realistic?

Another important question to help you deal in reality is how reasonable are your criteria for choosing leaders. S&W remind us of an important hiring principle “Qualifications are meant to keep some people out of leadership, not all people out of leaadership!” S&W make an important distinction between group leaders and discussion leaders, they encourage groups to rotate out who leads the discussion. There are five reasonable criteria S&W use as they evaluate leadership;

  1. Leaders have to be connected
  2. Leaders need to have character
  3. Leaders must embrace NorthPoints group culture
  4. Leaders must have good chemistry with the staff and other leaders
  5. Leaders need to have a high level of competency

Not only do our leader qualifications need to be reasonable, so do our expectations. If qualifications clarify who should lead, then expectations clarify what the leader does when they lead.” In order to make expectations fair and realistic with people who have full-time jobs elsewhere they ask their leaders to do just two things – facilitate the group and monitor the group.

In order to better deal in reality NorthPoint had to make a difficult decission, they removed their coaches and had their staff Group Directors do the coaching. To deal in reality every church will have difficult decisions to make, they may not be the same as S&W but they will nevertheless be challenging – change is a hill everyone must climb…

Train Less For More

If you haven’t read Dave Fergusons “The Big Idea” and you like this chapter of S&W then go ahead and pick his book up, siimilar insights and thrusts. S&W open the chapter up by recalling a their common experience of visiting conference’s and returning home with shreds and shreds of disjointed notes, what they’ve sought to do to better their experience is walk away with the big idea of the conference instead. Their trying “to move from being an acquirer of information to an applier of information.”

Here’s the centeral point for S&W in this chapter, we need to prioritize information, and learn how to weigh our values in that process, period. In order to prioritize S&W have chosen some essentials they want their leaders to hold to;

  • Think Life-Changing
  • Cultivate Relationships
  • Promote Participation
  • Replace Yourself
  • Provide Care
  • Multiple Influence

As their leaders grow in these core essentials they beleive their whole ministry grows. The next step is not to create another whole set of essentials, but rather to ‘play them again’ in the lives of their next set of leaders. “Essentials lead to effective, life-changing small groups.”

Set Up For Success

S&W recall their journey toward have a mature small group ministry, they’re open and honest here, they started with being attractional and latter moved on to thinking more in terms of connecting people. gulp. Now S&W believe their small groups ministry is positioned for success, here are the five things they believe got them there;

  1. Simple – “One factor is to keep your church’s strategy simple. We don’t try to do everything. Instead, we try to do a few things well.”
  2. Visible – “The more visible groups are, the more people get the message that they are important and a priority for our church.” NorthPoint gets them visible and keeps them visible through Andy’s preaching, GroupLink, and Baptisms.
  3. Valued – “…what’s valued is what’s celebrated.”
  4. Resourced – “You can tell a lot about a person by how he spends his money. You can tell a lot about churches the same way. They invest in what they value. Without appropriate resources, no groups system will ever get off the ground.”
  5. Modeled – the senior pastor has to model this through participation or it just won’t work, and so do all the other leaders in the body as much as possible.

They are many things that can set up a groups system for success. For us, what’s most important is making the strategy simple, keeping themessage visible, valuing the processes, providing adequate resources, and modeling participation. Each contributes to create a process that looks good on paper and works well in reality.” S&W close their book with a final thought and a few appendixes.


Since this is the last set of afterthoughts I just want to say that if you’re a small group pastor or coach Stanley and Willitz book is as good as any on the market. Their writing is accessible, their points are stimulating, their vulnerability is refreshing, and S&W hit on so many big picture questions that its like have a microcosm of pastoral philosophical questions in a read that could be completed in the span of a few hours. I’d be happy to read and discuss this book with my own Community Group Leaders, would we have differences – of course, but would we grow as a team and have our community group philosophies clarified – assuredly.

With these high praises as the tone setter let me just acknowledge some personal differences my appraoch and theirs has, I’m definitely on the ‘more is more’ end of the spectrum. I do think that robust biblical-theological, and cultural exegesis adds depth and quality to community group leaders lives and shepherding ministries. I have a more particular definition of community than S&W do, and I am much more concerned with emphasizing mercy and justice and mission as a normal part of a community groups life than S&W displayed in this little work. Though to be fare this is hardly their last word on the subject. Part of the reasons behind this are probably my own story as someone who was converted out of the highest heights of Scientology, as well as being someone whose academic interests hold together more naturally and casually than many other praciticioners in the body from the attractional side of the fence (forgive the metaphor). My concerns still stand regarding NorthPoint and Post-Christian culture which encompasses  postmodernity, postcolonialism, and glocal issues.

Some running questions I was left with was how effective their staff is without coaches between them and their leaders? What does coaching that many groups from a staffing point of view really look like on a week to week basis. How do they minister and shepherd the tempted, accused, and afflicted; what guides them as they engage both relativism and moralism? I get that they believe that less is more but what does that really looke like for leaders who must lead discussion times, are they considering ‘theological quality’ in the life of their people (of coarse they are, but how and in what way?)? My concerns and fears for them is that they may err on the end of not acquirering information because they’ve not over promote its application – eventually the application end of things will show some real signs of malenurishment. Could these concerns be unfounded? Yes. One last concern I had was in what way does the gospel of grace and leading with a limp or out of weakness and in God’s strength play in their leadership assessment and success measurement? In a smaller church like mine of coarse it can appear easier to value these two items but its no less costly to walk that road…are they walking in a way that exudes the nature of the Kingdom where the weak rather than the strong are instruments in the hands of the redeemer…if so where is the emphasis that would promote such an experience or ‘environment’…

These concerns and afterthoughts aside, pick up the book you’ll benefit from it. And in case you were wondering, will I buy more Stanley books? Believe it, the next one by him I’m planning on reading is his book on communication.