In recent research, which Ed Stetzer and I will be sharing in an upcoming book on groups, we discovered that the majority of small group leaders in churches are not given any direction as to what their groups should study. Not only are these leaders not given Bible studies that fit the overarching discipleship plan of the church, they are not given any direction. Not a list of suggested resources, not a plan for choosing studies, nothing.
As a church meets for worship gatherings on Sunday, a wise pastor will not hand the microphone over to just anybody to teach. The pastor values the sermon—and the people—too much to haphazardly allow the teaching to “just sort of happen.” Yet every single week, in some of those same churches, groups gather and form community around studies that are disjointed from any type of discipleship plan, or worse, are disconnected from the doctrine and beliefs of the church.
Though we don’t regard the haphazard approach as healthy anyway, we wondered if perhaps this is what group leaders really want. We thought that perhaps church leaders and pastors desperately wanting to gather people in groups have just decided this is not a battle they want to fight with group leaders who are adamantly insisting they choose the direction of study for their groups. We wondered if pastors had not cast a compelling discipleship strategy for their leaders, were just glad they have leaders, and wouldn’t dare jeopardize that by providing direction to leaders who insist they don’t want any.
To test that assumption, we interviewed over 1,000 small group leaders. And we found that group leaders, over 75 percent of them anyway, say they want direction. They say their church should have a discipleship strategy, should have a vision for what groups study together, and that group content should be connected to their church’s doctrine and direction.
If the sermon were treated haphazardly, people would assume that it was not that valuable to the church and to her leaders. Surely, then, how a church approaches the content of their group studies reveals to the people the real value the church places on groups. It is best to have a wise plan for developing disciples through groups. The good news is that the group leaders in your church likely recognize this reality already.