Donahue Bill; Robinson Russ. The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry: A Troubleshooting Guide for Church Leaders. Zondervan, Grand Rapids. 2002.
Bill Donahue; executive director of Small Group Ministries Movement for Willow Creek Association.
Russ Robinson; senior pastor Meadowbrook Church in North Haledon, N.J.
Ch. 1. Sin One. Unclear Ministry Objectives.
The decision to begin small groups in a church because of all the positive good that can come from such a program is not going to make a successful small group ministry. Churches must choose to use a specific model as part of their objective. Three simple models are; "church with small groups, church is small groups (cells), church of small groups".p.20. A chart is presented to illustrate the difference between these models. The purpose of small groups must always be compatible with the over all goal (mission) of the church. The recognition of unclear ministry objectives is basic to dealing with the problem.
Ch.2. Strategies and Tools for Developing Clear Ministry Objectives.
Here are some criteria for ministry objectives. Groups must be formed around affinity. Geography (proximity) can be another criteria. Getting into a group may take a centralized or decentralized approach. Groups should have leaders. Meetings should be structured. The choice of curriculum should be monitored. Evangelism is an overall goal of a church so it needs to be a priority in small groups. This happens through "vertical and horizontal alignment". p.42-43. This will involve communication, coordination, and collaboration.
Ch. 3. Sin Two, Lack of Point Leadership.
Objectives and leadership are inseparable. There must be a designated point leader if small group ministry is to be effective. It is a mistake to add this leadership to some who already has a portfolio. The effectiveness of small groups must be monitored.
Ch. 4. Strategies and Tools for Choosing Effective Point Leaders.
When the essentials of a point leader are identified they are to be viewed as tools for selection not characteristics that all leaders have. These essentials are spiritual gifts, leadership, administration, discernment, leadership traits, proven history, spiritual life. (and the ability to walk on water-my emphasis) Key skills for point leaders are communicating vision, team building, and interviewing for leaders. note; The challenge in many smaller churches is not so much the choice of a right leader but finding a leader among limited volunteers.(HD)
Ch. 5. Sin Three. Poor Coaching Structures.
The most common problem for coaches is a disregard for an appropriate span of care. The result is burn out. Coaches must be led and fed even though they are leading. Three threats to good coaching technique are huddles that have become stagnant, discomfort when coaches visit small groups and one on one sessions that don’t go past the superficiality of business only. Coaches work with task based leaders.
Ch. 6. Strategies and Tools for Rebuilding Poor Coaching Structures.
Effective coaches are caring, listening, encouraging, praying, reproducing individuals. Division leaders lead coaches. It is their responsibility to identify and develop coaches. To neglect coaches is to invite burn out for a church leader.
Ch. 7. Sin Four. Neglect of Ongoing Leadership Development.
Leader shortage is always a problem in churches. It takes more than an ‘identify and deploy’ tactic to provide leaders. Development is key. It requires a leadership culture in which teaching is clear and strong. Modeling is important.
Ch. 8. Strategies and Tools for Developing Leaders.
It is important to be aware of ‘rising leaders’ and those new people with some past leadership experience. "Concentrate on selection more than development."p.116. An apprenticeship program is an effective way to develop leaders. Leaders can be developed by forming a whole group of apprentices and training them. (turbo group.)
Ch. 9. Sin Five. Closed Group Mindset.
"A closed group mindset is a death sentence to true community."p.129. The open chair is an essential for any small group. Groups can be threatened by seekers (newcomers).
Ch. 10. Strategies and Tools for Transforming Group Mindset.
Small groups are about community. This implies accessibility. Open small groups are characterized by apprentices and flexible relevant curriculum. When groups move from being open to being contagious (outreach) evangelism begins to happen. These groups fall into three levels of evangelism.
Ch. 11. Sin Six. Narrow Definition of Small Groups.
When a small group does only one thing e.g. Bible study, it is by definition a narrow group. When groups compare and contrast themselves with other groups they evidence narrowness. The goal of spiritual progress and maturity needs to be tempered by patience and love.
Ch. 12. Strategies and Tools for Broadening the Range of Small Groups.
Three principles for developing small groups are "a common developmental framework, a common structure, and a common ground".p.168. A long list of affinity groups is given and discussed briefly. The areas of affinity are need, task, interest and life stage.
Ch. 13. Sin Seven. Neglect of the Assimilation Process.
The obstacles to assimilation are isolation, not getting connected, lack of information about new people and not doing proper follow up. Some very detailed charts are presented to illustrate the structure of assimilation.
Ch. 14. Strategies and Tools for Improving Assimilation.
The four tools for assimilation are mobilize-moving people from being a guest to becoming connected, connect-in community, develop-permanent connectedness, retain- continued connectedness even though there is movement in community.
At the end of the book there are seven appendixes.
At the beginning of the book three models for small groups are identified. This book is all about one of those models, a church of small groups. The illustrations come primarily from one (mega) church, Willow Creek. Since the majority of churches are smaller and probably use a different model (a church with small groups) the illustrations are weakened. The challenge is to identify transferable principles and apply them to a local church. This is a "how to" book for doing small groups.