A Pastor’s Passion for Small Groups

The senior pastor's love for small groups is the biggest factor in predicting their success.

There are many different approaches to church growth, some more affective than others.  Here at South Hills, we have a simple three point approach which is to  1.invite people to one of our weekend services,  2.promote small groups, and 3.encourage  involvement through serving.  We have found that the more connected someone feels, the more likely that person will continue to attend our church and/or church in general.  For that reason I frequently, enthusiastically promote small groups in our weekend services and other venues. The following article excerpt by Josh Hunt, www.joshhunt.com has some great insight to the importance of small groups.

Sticky Church
Rick Warren taught us that to grow a church, you need to think about five concentric circles:

  • COMMUNITY Those living around your church who never or occasionally attend.
  • CROWD Those who attend your church regularly but are not members.
  • CONGREGATION Those who are committed to both Christ and membership in your church family.
  • COMMITTED Those members who are serious about growing to spiritual maturity.
  • CORE Those members who actively serve in ministry and mission in your church.

The idea of disciplemaking and church growth is to move people ever closer to the center.

What Larry Osborne adds to the conversation is this: it is a whole lot easier to grow a church by concentrating on the inner rings– moving the crowd to the congregation and so forth, than it is to concentrate on the outer ring — moving the community into the crowd.
Much church growth thinking concentrates on the opposite — how to attract a crowd. I think Larry Osborne is right in saying that the fastest path to growth is to concentrate on the inner rings.
This seems to be the way Jesus operated. He concentrated on the few more than the masses. This was Robert Coleman’s theme in the classic work, The Master Plan of Evangelism.  While not ignoring the masses, Jesus seemed to concentrate his energy on the few. As time went along and the cross grew closer, he seemed to concentrate more and more of his energy on the few.
My own research corroborates this approach. I did a survey where I asked four questions to five hundred churches:

How many attend?
How many attended a year ago?
How many visitors do you have?
How many join?

I discovered there was very little difference between growing churches and non-growing churches in terms of their how many visitors they had (calculated as a percentage of worship attendance). There was a huge difference in terms of how many stuck around. They big difference was in what I called the “Velcro factor,” not the “magnet factor.” This is the theme of Larry’s Osborne’s book, Sticky Church.

How to Make a Church Sticky
Here is my answer: invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. Have a party once a month and make sure every member gets invited. If we can get them to the party you would not be able to keep them from class.
Here is Larry Osborne’s answer: sermon-based small groups.
Larry spends five chapters discussing how small groups change everything. People grow in small groups. Small groups need to be right-sized. Small groups dispel the Holy Man myth. Small groups dispel the Holy Place myth. And so forth.

The last half of the book is why sermon-based small groups make a church sticky.
At this point, I am feeling a little stupid. I read the book twice, then skimmed it to find the answer to this question: WHY? Why are sermon-based groups better than other kind of groups at getting visitors to stick around?

Here is my take: sermon-based groups are no better or worse than other types of groups. The key variable is the Senior-pastor cheer-leading the groups.
Imagine two churches. One has a Senior pastor who is a real cheerleader of groups. He regularly attends a group and regularly tells stories about his group from the pulpit. These could be home groups or Sunday School style groups, open or closed groups, any type of groups. They key thing is, the pastor is a huge fan of groups.
Down the street we have a church that follows the sticky church model to the tee. They attend the conference. The staff all read the book. They attempt to implement the plan as carefully as they can. But, they can’t get the pastor really on board. He does a little push at first, but then he looses interest. His interest is the worship service. Groups are not that important to him.
Which church do you think will have the best groups?
Groups don’t work at North Coast because they are sermon-based. They work because the Senior pastor cheerleads them.
That is not to say that sermon based groups are a bad idea. They are not. But, they are not the silver bullet. The senior pastor’s love for groups is the single biggest factor in predicting the success of groups at any church–not the details of the model. Pick a model, any model: old fashioned Sunday School, Cho’s small groups, Carl George’s meta groups, Northpoint’s (Andy Stanley) closed group model, neighborhood groups, or any other–and get the pastor thoroughly excited about it and I will show you a model that is working.

One closing thought, small groups are an important source of connection and growth for the people of your church, and it is highly valuable for them to here this from the pastor who leads them.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“Encourage every member to join a small group. Not only do they help people connect with one another, they also allow your church to maintain a ‘small church’ feeling of fellowship as it grows. Small groups can provide the personal care and attention every member deserves no matter how big the church becomes.”                                                                                                                                          – Rick Warren


About Chris Sonksen

Chris Sonksen is the founder and Lead Pastor of South Hills Church and has an exceptional ability to inspire both secular and non-secular audiences. Under his leadership, South Hills has experienced phenomenal growth and in just a few short years has grown from a handful of people to nearly 3000 in attendance today. Today South Hills has become a thriving, multi-service and multi-site church. Chris has a magnetic, captivating and humorous style for motivating and inspiring all audiences. As a motivational speaker, he has spoken both nationally and internationally in companies such as Verizon, Securitas and Home Depot, and there is no doubt that by applying his teachings, his audience will improve the quality of their lives! Chris is the author of two books In Search of Higher Ground and Handshake. Chris is the founder of Celera Church Strategy Group an organization with an unwavering commitment to excellence in all things, with the goal to “raise the national average of church attendance,” by equipping church leaders with resources and coaching. Chris brings high-energy focus and a passion for vision and leadership to encourage and equip the local Church. Chris is a native Californian, born in Long Beach and currently resides in Corona with his wife, Laura and their two children, Grace and Aidan.

Posted on December 1, 2009, in church growth, Relationships, small groups, weekend services and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Chris,
    I appreciate you take on small groups and your insights about Osborne’s book. His advise has been a disaster for me. I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years. When our church (the pastor) decided to do the Sticky Church thing, they took the advice Osborne gives on page 128+ and chose new, inexperienced leaders. This means I was out unless I went along with the new program. I didn’t like it because it puts one man as the source of all instruction and equipping. This is not how the bible describes church life. I don’t mind sermon notes being available if small group leaders don’t have iniative or gifting to lead themselves but to force everyone to reiterate and discuss what one man said on sunday is, in my opinion, counter productive. I see it as a vision stealer. Where is there room for the vision God instills in his people? If we are a body, then we must realize that each part knows how to act and react. while a pastor might be the conscious part of the brain, most of the body functions without the brain being conscious. And, I might add, the most important functions of the body are done unawares (i.e. breathing, blood pumping, reflexes, digestion etc.) I see pastors trying to control things that they will never control and then they burn out. You are just the pastor, that’s all. You are not even the most important part of the congregation. You have one little part. OK. You get paid. You’ve been to school. So what? The “pastor” at my church says that we have to have order. I guess he doesn’t think the Holy Spirit can do this. Anyway, now my church is turning into a one man show and those who are excited about whatever he does are doing fine but the people with vision are dying.

    • Thank you for your insight. It is so important for pastors to realize that what works for one church will not work for another, and to take the basic principles suggested in those books and adapt them (with much prayer) to fit your church and community. Keep praying for your pastor and your other leaders that they will see this truth and let the Spirit lead them.

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