3 Keys to Managing Change in Your Small Group Ministry

By: Steve Gladen

When starting a small group ministry, you are eager to see the fruit of your labor. But building before the foundation is ready always proves unwise. Whenever a new idea is introduced, acceptance of change runs pretty true to the Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Bell Curve. You will typically encounter about 16 percent eager early adopters, 34 percent early-mid adopters, and 16 percent resistant late adopters. In light of this time-proven reality, don’t be discouraged if your good ideas don’t garner overwhelming support.

In following these 3 keys, you will ultimately see wide adoption.

#1. Honor the Past

UNDERSTAND THE PAST SO YOU CAN SHAPE THE FUTURE.

Understanding must come before implementation. As the structure of your ministry begins to coalesce, you need to understand the goals of key leaders, especially senior leadership. You need to understand your church’s culture and small group history. And watch carefully for the issues over which people – especially leaders – may be unpredictably sensitive. Always listen carefully and seek to understand before you try to be understood. This will help you measure people’s trust in your relationship. You want to have a firm grip on these things before you attempt to implement any new ministry or ideas. It is detrimental to the overall health of your church if your ministry is not completely aligned with the church as a whole or with other church ministries. By doing all of this with care, you will honor the past in a way that will help you progressively move into the future.

#2. Ask Questions

ASK, LISTEN, ACKNOWLEDGE, REPEAT.

Even if you have been at your church for quite a while, make sure you review the church’s history with leaders and ask clarifying questions over a meal or coffee. First, you need to interview key opinion leaders in your church. Get to know them. Listen, listen,  listen. Determining their goals helps you strategize and execute your plan in an efficient and effective manner, leading to churchwide alignment. Second, survey current small group leaders and Sunday school teachers about their past experiences. What have they been doing? How have they been supported by the church’s leaders? What makes for a successful community in their minds?

From the stories you hear, try to discern: has the church history been positive? Are new concepts embraced or resisted? Has trust been broken? If so, by what? The answers will tell you a lot about where you can go and how fast you will get there. You can also uncover hidden land mines – actions or statements that may trigger negative reactions in others. It’s good to ask “How would you go about making changes in this church? The answer may give you a wise roadmap for your efforts.

These conversations will happen! It is your call whether you want to have them before you implement change, using the relational approach, or after, as you repair damaged relationships and trust.

#3. Exercise Patience

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE.

Take your time. This process doesn’t happen quickly. By taking adequate time early, you will save tons of time on the backside of implementation. Change is always hard and often meets fear and resistance, even if the change is right. Therefore, focus most of your energy at first on those who see your vision from the start, and make them your allies in helping others see it. Pray for the responsiveness of your church. Pray for leaders the Lord will raise up. Pray about timing. And pray for what the Lord wants you to accomplish.

 


 

This article was originally posted on Small Group Network. Learn more from Steve in “Intro to Small Groups” in the PD Training Library and his breakout at PDC 2020.

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About the Author
Steve Gladen
Steve Gladen has been the pastor of small groups at Saddleback Church since 1998 and serves as an elder of the church. He oversees the strategic launch and spiritual development of more than 7,000 adult small groups on multiple campuses. He is the author of Small Groups with Purpose, Leading Small Groups with Purpose, and brand new release, “Planning Small Groups with Purpose.” Steve is also the founder and leader of the Small Group Network and a tireless advocate for healthy small groups ministries.
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