If I can pin point the determining factor of why I am where I am today I can point it back to my small group experience. When I was in high school, this is where my faith really started to come into play. I grew up in the church but didn’t really do anything about my faith until my junior year. That all changed when I was thrown into this random group of guys where I truly began to understand what true, authentic, spiritual community can do for someone. Now I have to warn you, my experience was a little weird, well, because these guys were a little weird.
I remember it was during a weekend camp. For some reason I came up later in the evening. I was a little nervous because I didn’t know my leader and I didn’t really know any of the guys who were in my cabin. So I walked up to the door and knock on it and I heard, “Take off your shirt.” It was winter in the mountains so there was no way I was going to take off my shirt. “Take off your shirt of you’re not coming in.” So I took off my shirt and the door opened and what I saw will be forever ingrained into my mind. Mind you, this is my first experience with these guys.
I walked into the room and to my right I saw Joey jumping on the beds naked, playing spider man jumping from bed to bed because the floor was lava. And in the other corner are Travis and Wes who are wrestling because Wes wants to pop this ginormous zit on Travis’s back. I walked down the hall and out of the shower comes my cabin leader who proceeded to towel whip my bear back and it drew blood while saying, “Welcome to small group.” In my head I thought, “I’m not going to make it this weekend. I’m already done.”
I made it through that weekend and they kept on inviting me to hang out with them at their small group after camp was over. I thought, “Okay I’ll go, I had a good time.” So I kept on coming, and I was weirded out by the groups. The guys would get together and talk about their problems. They would cry. They would pray for each other and I could tell the genuinely loved each other. I thought it was a little weird.
It was definitely uncommon.
But over time, I began to be drawn to it. They had something that I didn’t have. The way the handled the same things I was going through it seemed like they had hope when I didn’t. I began to engage in this community. I began to partake in what they were doing and I began to see myself grow closer and closer to God and started to become more and more like Him. Years later, I still get to call them friends. It changed my life.
The question you need to ask your self when it comes to small groups is:
What role do small groups play in the overall structure of your program? What is the end goal for your student ministry? Is it your service? Is it getting them plugged into small groups? Is it getting them serving in the church?
As I write this I am in my second round here at CCV were I serve. I worked here for almost 4 years and we were able to get some big numbers Wednesday nights. I left to work with Josh for a bit and now I’m back serving here. Right now, in my second round at CCV were I am leading our team, we are not getting the numbers we once were; and I’m okay with that.
My first round, big numbers where the end goal, we had a great program, students would show up out of nowhere and nights would be big and loud. But when the leaders left, so did the students. The numbers were based on hype. Does that mean God was not showing up? No, not at all. It was a great team of people of loved the Lord and students met Jesus almost every week. What I’m saying is that looking back, we had our structure wrong. We had our end goal in the wrong place. The end goal, the only goal, was to get students to service.
Now the end goal is small groups we have small groups and students are in a community being discipled. Do we all want bigger numbers? Of course we do. We hear about it all of the time from the people we report to or whether it’s the voice in our heads. Why am I happier right now? Small groups are our end goal. I feel like my first round here, as awesome as high numbers are, Wednesday’s were our end game. Our success was based on how many students came. The extent of our discipleship was what they got on Wednesday. As big, fun, energetic as that is, it ended when they left.
This year with the launch of our small groups Wednesday’s are now a means to an end; small groups being the end. We do Wednesday’s in hopes we can get students there so that they can get connected into a small group. One of the best things about working at Saddleback HSM and overseeing their small group ministry was I saw what it was like to have more students in small groups than attended the weekend services. The weekend/midweek services are great but if they are the end, we can gather as many as possible but it will not be as healthy as getting them into something else that will close that dreaded “back door” or ministry where they can allow Jesus to truly invade their lives and be transformed.
Do I still get caught up in the numbers game? Of course, we all do if we are honest. But I know now with 35% of students in groups our first year of groups (our goal next year is to get to 50%) and smaller attendance right now, we have a far healthier ministry than we once had. It’s a change of mindset of what is important. I still care about numbers, but the numbers that drive me are how many are in a small group community, with 1 or 2 adults pouring into them where they can study Scripture and allow Jesus to transform them all school year long. D
Does this mean our midweek service suffers? Not at all. We will keep being a ministry in which attracts students who do not know Jesus to come be exposed to him during our midweek. We know that as we grow in our midweek, we will grow in our small groups because we have somewhere where we want them to go. They will feed each other.
The end game changed and I feel our ministry will grow because of it. It might not be the explosive growth we once saw, but it will be healthier growth. Healthy things grow.
So the question is, what is your end goal? What is a means to an end? What are your means? Do you have an end you want students to be? Why do you want them there? One of the worst things we can do as leaders is not know the answer to these questions. If you don’t have a clear answer, one of the best things you can do for your ministry is be clear in this area.