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The small-group dynamic

RUSSELL A. PRIMROSE

Somewhere between the mass ministry of group worship or preaching and the one-on-one of personal evangelism lies the church ministry of the small group. Small groups exist for choir, ushering, altar work, visitation, Bible study, prayer, dinners for eight, church board, Royal Rangers, Men’s Ministries, Women’s Ministries, staff conferences, etc. They can evolve around a common interest or the need for action. Central to small-group activities is the need for a central core of coordination which has its foundation within the church administration.

Dynamics

The small group has dynamic that should be recognized, utilized, and accommodated. A small group develops a personality of its own that is a function of its membership, motivation, and direction. Although some small groups have closed or limited access, as many as possible should be open or of easy access. In fact, membership should be actively solicited.

1. Short-term–continuous

2. Just meeting–a sought experience

Membership

A small group at minimum should have a nucleus of (1) a leader, (2) an apprentice leader, and (3) a host or hostess. It should have a frequency of and a place of meeting. Usually at any one time it can have growing Christians, seeking persons, even disrupting personalities or irritants around which the group must grow. It might also have a person to help with business details (such as baby-sitting) and, from time to time, a person responsible for developing several groups to observe and to coach. Often an empty chair is deliberately set to emphasize the need to invite others and to expand ministry.

1. Fixed–growing enrollment

2. Serving church members–serving unchurched

3. Assigned–recruited membership

4. Just surviving–sponsoring new cells

Agenda

The group’s emphasis should be interaction among all members instead of one person interacting with the group. The agenda should be the encouragement and edification of each individual as well as the deliberate development of leadership. The group’s time should be divided into three parts: (1) break ice, promote safety, share fellowship, and instill intimacy; (2) minister to the needs of the group, give thanks, engage in praise, and minister to the Lord; (3) tend the study or purpose of the group. This agenda should be paced to fit into about 1 1/2 hours (or whatever time has been allotted) and should be kept punctual.

Self-selected study–church-provided topics

Size

Small for a group is often defined as between 5 to 15 people with larger or smaller assemblies showing fewer small-group dynamics as they deviate from this size. As an example of optimum size and administrative structure, assume a group size of 10 (with the leaders of 10 groups forming an administrative small group representing 100 people).

Division

A normal healthy group should have a sensitivity to maintain a small size by dividing when appropriate. The division is ideally between the leader and the assistant leader in order to build on leadership experience. The analogy of normal healthy cell division in an average of 24 meetings is applicable here (about 6 months if meetings are weekly). By assuming a group size of 10, when a group reaches 16 divide into two groups of 8 that would then be encouraged to grow back and function near optimum.

Few large–many small groups

Focus

Some of the focus of the small group should be to love, learn, do, develop, and decide.

Love-Bonding and relationships should occur within the group, and the group’s purpose is to edify the person. Thus it should be small enough to listen. A sense of safety should be apparent because vulnerability is a function of safety, trust is a function of vulnerability, and intimacy is a function of trust. Attitudes and behavior can be changed in intimacy. The model would then be: safety–vulnerable–trust–intimacy–change.

Indifferent–responsive

Learn–The small group can be an instrument of evangelism, assimilation, finding gifts and ministry, increasing Bible knowledge, finding the application of teaching to life, and coping with crisis. Learning and teaching should be facilitated

Do–Some function or direction is assumed that is either charged to or is selected by the group. A person focuses learning by acting–the laboratory part of the learning process.

Develop–For the group to propagate itself, leadership must be developed. Assistant leadership and leadership potential should be identified. The role of the spouse in leadership should be made clear. Special courses designed to develop the leadership are available and should be encouraged. Lay leadership for the church as a whole can most easily be developed by use on the group level.

1. Using available leaders–developing new leadership

2. Leader–leader team nucleus

3. Staff-led–laity-led

4. Isolated leadership–coached leadership

Decide–Some decisions are made and handed down to the group and should be cheerfully carried out and reacted to. A number of decisions are made as a group. Planning for and carrying out the business of the group would fall in the "Decide" category. What to study next, when to meet, where to meet, how to handle the kids, and how to entice new members are typical of the decisions open to the group.

Principles of operation

1. There are three parts to a successful group meeting.

2. Participation is the key to success.

3. Begin and close with conversational prayer.

4. Respond lovingly to an expressed need immediately.

5. The Bible is our authority and Guidebook.

6. Encourage everyone in the group.

7. Don’t allow divisive or argumentative doctrinal discussion.

8. Practice mutual edification.

9. Lead in love.

10. Follow-up to members between meetings is essential.

11. Bringing new members into the group will keep it alive and growing.

12. Handle problem people away from the group on a one-on-one basis.

13. Don’t allow people to confess someone else’s faults–only their own.

14. Don’t allow any one person to do all the talking.

15. Be tuned up spiritually yourself.

16. Keep learning. Don’t have all the answers.

17. Hang loose and maintain a relaxed spirit in the group.

18. A good sense of humor is a valuable asset.

19. When you have a need in your own life, ask the group for help.

20. When you have problems or need help, express it to the pastor or leader.

21. Remember–Christ is Leader, not us.