I serve at Our Savior’s Baptist as a second-chair leader with significant responsibility for guiding our small group ministry. I am thankful for Mark Howell’s recommendation to read Bill Search’s Simple Small Groups. I appreciate Search’s micro emphasis on what happens within a small group rather than on a macro emphasis of developing an entire small group system. In fact, I would like to put a copy of Simple Small Groups in the hands of each of my small group leaders! Why? Well, because it’s so simple! In broad strokes Search describes three functions of every small group: to help people connect, change, and cultivate. He very wisely describes each as be a continuum rather than a destination.
The connect continuum includes meet, commit, and belong. To move people along that continuum he suggests that we can help people get connected when they meet by conducting a good meeting, sharing leadership responsibilities, and praying for each other. Leaders can help people increase their commitment to the group by hanging out together and meeting in sub-groups. He suggests that going on a retreat or vacationing together helps people move toward belonging because it helps create common life stories.
The change continuum includes learning, growing, and transformation. Search asserts that groups foster change through honesty, applying the Scriptures, and listening. Of particular interest and insight here is his description of the importance of the relational bridge on p. 84:
My friend Mike loves to say, “You’ve got to build the relational bridge strong enough to hold the weight of truth.” I love that metaphor! Imagine that a group is a series of relationships that create the foundation of the bridge,the piers, the cables, girders, and finally the roadway. Every time the group meets or members interact they add to the bridge. They secure a cable. They fasten a relational bolt. They pour cement. The more the bridge takes shape, the safer it becomes.
Along the first segment of the change continuum (learn) Search suggests that groups learn together, memorize scripture together, and pray together – always keeping it simple. Along the grow segment of the change continuum groups will discuss the Bible – including the context, background, and personal application. And then there’s what he calls “mirror time.” He defines mirror time as “..what we need are friends from our group who will hold up the mirror and simply ask, “Do you like what you see?” And we need to be willing to prop up the mirror for our friends and be willing to ask them the same question. (p.98) Getting groups to the final segment of the change continuum (transform) includes setting personal spiritual goals and confession.
True to form Search identifies three segments for the cultivate continuum, too: exploring, applying, impacting. Cultivating is establishing a missional pattern in the lives of each group member. It may include a group activity but perhaps more frequently takes the form of helping group members live missonally.
At the end of each section where he describes the three major components (connect, change, cultivate) Search includes a very insightful series of group evaluation questions to help groups plot their progress. And unless you are tempted to focus on just one of those three components he addresses the importance of balance.
There are three good reasons to pursue all three patterns:
1. If a group doesn’t help each member connect, it will end quickly.
2. If a group deosn’t help each member change, it will end within a year.
3. If a group doesn’t help each member cultivate, it might last a long time but it will eventually become very dissatisfying.
I highly recommed Simple Small Groups! It is an essential volume for the library of any small group leader, coach, or pastor.