Yesterday I described what I believe to be two of the four ‘core competencies’ that are needed to be a successful Small Groups Pastor. Today I will give you the remaining two.
3) Strategic Orientation
Intellectual curiosity supplied the trait to ask the ‘why’ question and strategic orientation takes the knowledge gained into how to fix the problem. When this is applied to Small Groups, it enables the point leader for groups to align vision with a strategy for accomplishing that vision. Of all the competencies that have been discussed, this one area is the most crucial to being successful as a Small Groups Pastor. Donahue and Robinson speak to this fact when they write ‘Due to the decentralized nature of a groups ministry, creating a “together outcome” from independent leaders who are being empowered to shepherd their little flocks requires a point leader with a strategic orientation competency.’
From my experience, this one area is where group’s ministry is seeing the biggest change. When churches are small and their group system is only reaching 10% – 40% of their average attendance, the groups pastor or point person can afford to not be strategic because the system that is being used is not exceeding the parameters of what it was intended. When a church starts to reach and average attendance of between 500 – 1000 people a week and their groups ministry begins to average 50% – 75% involvement in groups, then that pastor will be forced to take a look at whatever system is in place and begin to evaluate the whole lot. This is because the existing small groups ‘system’ will have or will shortly be exceeding it’s intended parameters. This is where having a strategic orientation is crucial because it allows the groups pastor to look at the entire system and ask the crucial question of ‘how are we going to get from here to there’?
4) ‘Others Focus’
In the business world this would be known as a ‘customer service orientation’ but in world of ministry it is being able to look at every program, decision, initiative, or announcement through the eyes of the people who it affects; the church congregation. Because small group ministry is very decentralized, it is easy to lose touch with people when making a policy change or decision. This competency keeps the groups pastor from making a decision without first considering how it will affect the ‘average Joe” attending a particular group.
Question: If you were making a list of the key traits that are needed to be a Small Group Pastor, what would you include?
 Donahue, Bill & Robinson, Russ. Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry. (2012).
Core competencies have their roots in the business world and where first introduced in 1990 by the Harvard Business Review. They have since been developed and applied to the hiring practices of both for-profit and non-profit companies as they began to learn about the ‘type’ of person that was needed to be successful in a particular role. When it comes to the small group champion or pastor of a church, there are at least four that Donahue & Robinson believe must be present in order for that individual to be successful in their role. (I am going to list 2 today and 2 tomorrow)
1) Conceptual thinking
This is the ability to pinpoint the problem in what is otherwise a chain of seemingly unrelated and amorphous experiences. It allows the groups pastor the ability to focus, with laser precision, on the one issue or problem that is preventing their ministry from growing. This person will always say that they know what to do, even when no one else on the team does!
This skill is crucial as a ministry becomes larger and more complex. Without the ability to quickly analyze what is happening and quickly paint a picture of what is needed to ‘fix the problem’ a small group ministry could be crippled without this skill set. Ministry often does not lend itself to acquiring this type of competency which is why many churches are hiring staff from out of the business world where they had a much greater exposure and awareness of how this skill set is used a leadership position.
2) Intellectual Curiosity
The intellectually curious always begin with the question of ‘why’ and in the case of a Small Group Pastor they are also on a quest to understand how things are going now so that they can be made better in the future. This trait is most evident in the person who is never satisfied with the ‘first answer’ but will continue to ask the question until they are satisfied with the outcome or response. While understanding the outcomes has its place, in this trait the ability to ‘keep mining’ for answers is what is most important.
If the trait of intellectual curiosity is absent, as is the case in many leaders and ministries, it will fall into ‘predictable patterns’ and plateau. Conversely, By never standing pat and always pushing to answer the ‘why’ question, the small group pastor is constantly digging for answers that will lead him or her into making changes to the structure or philosophy which will propel the ministry to break whatever barrier is in front of them.
Question: What experience do you have with seeing these two competencies in action as part of your Small Group ministry?
Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson wrote in their book “Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry” that they believe there are two essential Spiritual Gifts that must be present in the Small Group point person: Leadership & Administration. A point person for small groups with the gift of leadership is able to motivate and paint a picture of the church of the urgency of small group ministry. The gift of leadership is crucial to the church in fulfilling it’s potential to be a church of small groups and not just a church with small group because of the vision component of this gift and its ability to ‘rally’ others to a cause. The administration gift, which at first seems out-of-place in a ministry such as small groups, is crucial for the small group point person. Whereas the leadership gift will get a church excited and motivated to get into small groups at the onset, it will be the gift of administration that will allow the ministry to continue over the long haul. Donahue & Robinson rightly observe about the importance of the gift of administration,
“The gift of administration is essential for the small group champion because of the nature of the ministry. The requirements of structuring small group ministry, making tactical decisions, and organizing the support systems demand something more than just a leadership gift. When a gifted leader can exercise great management capabilities, small group ministry will flourish, season after season, as an expanding network of communities that meets needs, develops disciples, and strengthen the fabric of relationships with the church. Everybody gets the benefit of a strong infrastructure, so their efforts become easier due to how it all fits together.“
Filling this role on a church staff with a candidate who possess these characteristics can be a challenge. Many churches have opted instead to build a ‘team’ of people who each posses each of the individual gifts (leadership, administration, shepherding) so that collectively they can accomplish the mission of their respective ministry. Still others have ignored gifting completely and just tried to find to fill the role with a person who was maybe passionate about small groups but really did not have the right make-up for the role.
Question: what gifting is ideal or essential for someone to be a good Small Group Pastor?
 Donahue, Bill & Robinson, Russ. Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry. (2012). 50.
Many men & women who are currently serving in full-time time ministry often entertain the thought of ‘jumping into small group ministry’. Often this is coming from a place of frustration with their current role or the ‘warm-fuzzies’ they have experienced from being in small group. As Ben Reed so nicely wrote in a blog article “But being a groups pastor isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Or if that’s not your thing…it’s not all coffee and bagels. Turns out, this is hard work…” Small groups deal with people and their mess! As Heather Zempel has noted in her excellent book “Community is Messy” that many were ‘stirred’ into getting involved in small groups because of a talk, sermon, or lesson that focused on how great community is and how it fits neatly into the “New Testament” Pattern. But then something happened – people came to our groups! Whenever people are involved things always get messy! Why? Because people bring their hurts, hang-ups, and habits into our perfect communities. Without getting too far off track discussing the nature of Small Group Ministry and how to negotiate the challenges of ministering to people in their mess, the question of what makes a good Small Group Pastor is still on the table.
What makes a good Small Group Pastor? In my opinion, the role of the Small Group Pastor must be filled with someone who posses a make-up and gifting that is vastly different today than it was even just a few years ago. The challenge is finding candidates who posses the right qualifications and makeup to be successful in the role. Bill Donahue & Russ Robinson have correctly observed, “Small group point leaders aren’t churned out by the seminaries. The position is still under development across many churches and there’s not a vast pool of veteran small group champions looking for employment.” So what characteristics or qualities make a good Small Groups Pastor? We answer this question by looking at gifting and core competencies over the next several days.
Question: What qualities or characteristics make someone a good Small Group Pastor?
 Ben Reed, “10 things Nobody Told Me about Being a Small Group Pastor” November 26, 2012. www.benreed.net
 Zempel,Heather . “Community is Messy” . IVP. (2012) . 23-24.
 Donahue, Bill & Robinson, Russ. Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry. Zondervan.(2012), 50.
The ‘Megachurch’ as we know it is a phenomena that was only been around for about 20 plus years, but in that time it is growing both numerically and in influence. According to Robert Crosby in 1980 there were only 150 megachurches compared with 1,600 today. Also when you look at the total number of people who attend a church regularly, 50% of these people attend a megachurch, ‘though megachurches] only account for 10 percent of American congregations’. The numbers show that these ‘big churches are getting even bigger’ so it would stand to reason that if a church wants to make small group ministry a priority in their church, they must find a way to incorporate a small group system or ministry on a much larger scope than they may have had to in the past.
Question: What effect has the megachurch phenomenon had upon Small Group Ministry?
 Crosby, Robert. “MegaChange: 10 Trends ReShaping the American Megachurch” Outreach Magazine. (September, 2013).
In the early days of small groups ministry, much of its structure and organization was borrowed from the ‘Sunday-school’ model.’ The Sunday-school teacher became the small group leader and the Sunday-school Superintendent became the de-facto small group pastor. If the church was fortunate to have a Minister or Pastor of Education on their staff then they may step into this new role of the Small Group Pastor, otherwise the Sunday-School Superintendent, who was usually a volunteer, would left to assume the leadership of this new system. This approach was functional for a small group system of 1 – 125 people, as it does not fall outside of the person at the top’s ‘span of care’ which, at it’s limit, would be 10 leaders with 12 people in them. Using these parameters still factors in a highly organized person who can ‘coach’ ten leaders at one time but the more realistic number is one pastor coaching 3 -5 leaders.
Under this system, small group ministry largely flourished, as the organizational ability of the Small Group Pastor was never pushed to a point where they were forced to address the problem of ‘span of care’ on a large-scale. This all changed in 1991 when Carl George published his first book ‘Prepare Your Church for the Future’ which introduced the concept of the ‘Meta-Model’. Using this model, churches like Willow Creek, Saddleback, and The Cincinnati Vineyard have been able to establish an effective group’s system that can accommodate more than 16,000 in weekly attendance. This was a game changer for the small group ministry system because for the first time, the Small Group Pastor had to grapple with ‘span of care’ challenges that where beyond his individual ability to handle. For the relational gifted Small Group Pastor, this would provide a major challenge and would cause most of them to shrink away from wanting to grow beyond their ability to provide coaching to the leaders under their care. But for the systems thinking Small Groups Pastor, the prospect of a large ministry that exceeded their own abilities was obviously viewed as a challenge but was not a prospect that they would not throw themselves into taming. This was due to the fact that they would approach this challenge by relying on their ability to think and organize in systems whereas the relational small group pastor would feel utterly lost and unable to design such a system. Thus we see the shift in role of the Small Group Pastor as more churches are eclipsing the 1,000-member mark and becoming classified as a ‘mega-church.’
At what point do you think a Small Group system requires someone with an organizational and systems mindset needs to be hired to be a part of the leadership?
 George, Carl. The Coming Church Revolution. (1994). 9-10
I can rememberer it very clearly now; the plan! I was going to graduate from Bible College and become a youth pastor, but something happened along the way. I discovered that students are messy and do not fit into my type ‘A’ personality. I was then left to figure out what ‘career path’ I was left to follow. I considered preaching & teaching but soon discovered that I was not particularly gifted at it so I was left to consider children’s ministry, which like student ministry, I knew that I was not cut out for. Music ministry was out because I am in no way a musician! So what was left? About this same time, I became exposed to something new for me, which was the area of small group ministry, and I was immediately captivated by it! As I gained more and more exposure to small groups ministry, I soon discovered that my personality, gifting, and overall approach to ministry was a perfect fit for this type of ministry.
Fast forward a few years and I was now firmly settled into my role as a small group pastor at a large church, and I began to notice an interesting dynamic. Most of the guys that I knew personally where wired almost exactly the same way that I was and they were having tremendous success in their ministry. When I compare this to what many people view the role of the typical small group pastor to be, I began to see a bit of a disconnect. This is due in large part to both a misunderstanding on the part of people in churches with small groups and also on the part of many students in our seminaries who are training to become a small group pastor.
I contend that the role of small group pastor is changing! The days when the typical small group pastor could spend his days at his favorite coffee shop and fill his calendar with ‘face-to-face’ meeting with his leaders will have to be replaced with strategy sessions over organizational charts and refining small group systems. In short, the days of the relational small group pastor are coming to an end and the rise of systems thinking, operations based pastor is already taking place and the churches that are realizing this and hiring this skill set are winning at small groups and the remainder are being left behind.
What is your experience with the personality makeup of a successful small groups pastor? Are we seeing the end of the relational focused small groups pastor?