The Life-Changing Potential of Small Groups

It’s one thing to hear about a church’s programs or ministry efforts. It’s quite another to hear from someone whose life was directly and permanently changed as a result of that ministry. I’d like to introduce you to someone who is a prime example of an individual impacted by a church’s small group ministry.

One of the perks of my job is meeting people who’re passionate about serving God and His church. From clients, to interviews for articles, to connections I’ve made through Twitter, I get to talk with folks who’re putting their skills and ideas to work for the Kingdom.

One individual I met recently is Mike Mack. After experiencing the power of being connected in a small group, he went on to seminary, launched and led small groups for various churches, and also teaches at a Christian university. He also shares his insights on small groups over at Small Group Leadership. I asked Mike to answer a few questions to help introduce himself and his experience to you.

Here’s that interview:

From what I understand, your faith really took off as a result of participating in a small group.  What was it about that group that helped you grow spiritually and led you to a whole new career path?

I was a brand-new Christian at the time; in fact, I was still sorting out what it meant to live as a follower of Christ, and the people in that group accepted me for who I was and where I was. They showed and taught me what a Christ-like life was like, dug into the Scriptures with me, prayed for and with me, and … oh yeah, we had a lot of fun together.

I had lots of questions about being a Christian, and they were very patient and encouraging. At one meeting I asked how I should decide about what God wanted me to do with the rest of my life, and they prayed with me about it. When my company was bought out, which led to my whole department being eliminated, I asked, “What do I do now?” They prayed with me more and reassured me. Long story short, within three months, because of their steady prayer and encouragement, I wound up in seminary, just 6 months after giving my life to Christ.

I really do believe that the healthy community of a small group of friends can be life changing, because I experienced it myself.

Why are small groups important to a local church body?

We’re not meant to do life or grow spiritually in rows alone. There’s nothing particularly “magical” about small groups themselves. It’s the spiritual community of real friends who love one another, carry each other’s burdens, build each other up, spur one another on to love and good deeds, instruct and serve and forgive and pray for one another that changes people, changes the church, changes communities, and can change the world.

Each one of us needs a place where we can be authentically ourselves and know we are accepted, loved, and honored. You won’t find that with a thousand people or even a hundred or fifty. It happens with people you know as friends where you are face to face and heart to heart.

What are a few keys to developing and sustaining small groups within a church?

Volumes have been written trying to answer that question, and one thing I’ve noticed is that every church is different, so what worked for one church (that perhaps wrote a book about it) will probably not work for yours. But you can find some transferable principles in those books that you can utilize.

I teach a seminary class on small group and discipleship ministry and one of the things I do in that class is walk through a number of decisions the ministry leader must make concerning groups.

In the end, I try to teach these students and the leaders I coach and consult with to make those decisions based on core Biblical values/principles.

My book, Small Group Vital Signs, includes seven indicators of health for groups:

  1. Groups must be Christ-centered
  2. Have a healthy, overflowing leader
  3. Share leadership
  4. Be proactive (have goals and plans)
  5. Live in authentic community
  6. Minister to others, not just themselves
  7. Intentionally build a discipling environment.

If those key things are in place, groups will grow, bear fruit, and multiply.

You’ve published several books and curriculum related to small groups.  If a church leader is considering launching a small group program, which book should they start with and why?

I do suggest Small Group Vital Signs as a primary book, along with Bill Donahue’s Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry, Scott Boren’s Missional Small Groups, and several others. These are the books I use in my seminary class.

I just wrote a post about this very thing on my blog: “6 Must-Read Books for Small Group Ministry Leaders.”

These books provide a good mixture of adaptable philosophy, biblical values for discipleship in community, and practical “how-to-do-it” ideas.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to share your experiences and expertise!

Does your church have a small group program? If so, what have you found to be keys to success within your congregation?