Some definitions are in order…
Group smatter: Smatter means to speak superficially or to dabble in something. And many church leaders occasionally dabble in groups and speak superficially about the importance of community and groups in their churches.
Groups matter: According to recent research (which will soon become a book on groups with Ed Stetzer), your groups matter a lot. People in groups report that they give more generously, serve more sacrificially, confess and repent more frequently, and share the gospel more boldly than those who are not in a small group.
Because groups matter so much, it is time for church leaders to repent of mere group smatter. Here are three things church leaders must do with respect to their small groups:
1) Develop your leaders
Whether your groups are designed primarily for formation/education, mission engagement, or community/connection, the health of your groups will be in direct relationship to the health of your group leaders. Healthy groups are led by healthy leaders. Your small group leaders will reproduce who they are.
There is a holy cause and effect that will take place if you will commit to developing your leaders. When church leaders make the training of the saints their holy cause (Ephesians 4:11-12), the holy effect is a more healthy body (Ephesians 4:13). Your role as a pastor is not to do the ministry. It is ultimately to prepare other people to do ministry. And your group leaders are in a critical role to ensure the body is served and encouraged.
2) Launch new groups
Without new groups, you will not be giving new people who come to your church a place to connect or grow in community with other believers. New groups reveal an intentionality to shepherd new people, a passion to gather people in community, and a strong conviction that people must be known and not merely come to a worship gathering. New groups also reveal a culture of reproduction. It is painfully ironic that some churches talk about launching new campuses without being skilled in launching new groups. Walk before you run!
3) Feed the people
Jesus wants His sheep well fed. Regardless of the primary purpose of your groups (connection, mission, or formation), groups must be built on the Word of God. In the same prayer that Jesus pleaded with the Father for our unity, He also prayed for His disciples to be made holy: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). He wants us both unified and sanctified. And how are we made holy? “By the truth; Your word is truth.”
Ministries that attach people to one another without some expression of biblical study are creating an attachment that is too weak—and community that is too shallow. The most essential element in a wise discipleship study plan for groups is the Word: the Living Word (Jesus) and the written Word (the Bible). Studies must be rooted in Scripture, and over time, people must be exposed to the totality of the Word. Studies must also be focused on Jesus because only He transforms the heart.
Don’t just dabble in groups or talk occasionally about them. Groups matter too much for mere smatter. Develop your leaders, launch new groups, and feed the people well.