Small group models…
A little history…
1964 in Seoul, Korea, Pastor Yonggi ChoYoido Full Gospel Church, over 20,000 home groups, and it is actively planting churches throughout Korea and around the world.
There are several important things to understand about Cho’s small group model:
- Small groups exist for the dual purposes of edification and evangelism. Cho emphasizes that groups can fulfill and must fulfill these two objectives simultaneously.
- Groups meetings include Bible Study but are more than just Bible Study groups. In fact, Lydia Swain, Cho’s longtime personal secretary, told a friend of mine that the group meetings were initially 2/3 Bible Study and 1/3 prayer, and that they did not work very well. When the reversed the format to be 1/3 Bible Study and 2/3 prayer, the group ministry’s growth took off.
- There is an emphasis on relational evangelism, serving the needs of unbelievers in practical ways. The church tells its members to show Jesus’ love to those around them by saying, “Find a need and fill it.”
- The church established what has come to be known as the 5×5 oversight model. Every five groups or so are overseen by a “section leader.” Over every five or so section leaders are pastors. This pattern of oversight is apportioned according to geographic areas.
Cho also teaches us the importance of persistence. If at first you don’t succeed with small groups, try, try again. Cho says that you should plan to fail twice. Expect initial failure. It’s like riding a bike or learning to ice skate. You are mastering new skills and new ways of doing things.
The Groups of 12 Model
In 1982, Cesar Castellanos quit as a pastor. He was disillusioned with what he was experiencing in his ministry and in the life of his church in Colombia, South America. During this time of disillusionment, he sought God in a concerted way. Castellanos told me in a 1998 interview with him in his home that during his time of seeking God in 1982, he experienced a vision from God in which he heard God say, “Dream of a very large church, because dreams are the language of my Spirit, because the people in the church that you will pastor will be as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sands of the sea, the multitude will not be able to be counted.” In response to that vision, in February 1983, International Charismatic Mission (ICM) was birthed in Bogota, Colombia. The church had a young, contemporary feel and, inspired by Cho, used a home group strategy.
After seven years, however, Castellanos was frustrated because the church had plateaued at 3,000 members. Part of his frustration was how long it took to produce small group leaders. Few people completed the two-year process they were using, and those that did had few non-Christian friends left to win once they became leaders. Castellanos sought God for a breakthrough to release unlimited growth. He said the following…
But the moment came in my life when I said, “Lord, I need something that will help me accelerate the purpose.” And in my times of spiritual retreat God ministered greatly to my heart. In one of those moments he said. “I’m going to give you the ability to train people quickly.” And then he removed the veil and showed me the model of 12.
The “Groups of 12” or “G12” model is a combination of principles and methods that enabled ICM to become the fastest-growing church in the world. What are the characteristics of the G12 model?
- A “consolidation” process to disciple new believers that immediately sends them on a weekend “Encounter” retreat to help them be set free from spiritual bondage and be filled with the Holy Spirit, then into a “School of Leaders.” This discipleship system equips every member to start their own evangelistic small group within the first year of coming to Christ.
- An emphasis on the external multiplication of homogeneous groups targeting specific populations, such as businessmen, women, students, couples, etc.
- External multiplication means that ,instead of splitting existing small groups, new groups are formed by individuals by gathering new people from their own circle of influence.
- A system of oversight that has group leaders in “Groups of 12” where they are discipled on a weekly basis.
- Leaders of the Groups of 12 are also members in another Group of 12 led by someone else.
- The central point in the system is the pastor and his own Group of 12.
The G12—short for “Groups of 12” or “Government of 12”—model is intense. In time, a leader is involved in three weekly meetings—the small group that they lead, the G12 group where they are discipled by their leader, and a G12 group where they are encouraging and equipping the leaders under themselves. Joel Comiskey, in his helpful book From 12 to 3, has suggested ways to apply G12 principles in a North American setting in an intentional but less intense way.
Free Market Model
In the late 1990s, the church that Ted Haggard pastored—New Life in Colorado Springs, CO—experienced a turning point. It was a large church of 4,800 people, but its growth rate had declined to four percent. At that time, the church had 80 home groups that were organized geographically and met to discuss that week’s sermon.
They designed a system with these characteristics:
- Groups are organized around common interests, not geographical proximity, to draw both church members and unchurched into relationships—hence the title of Haggard’s book, Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century.
- Groups have a clear start and stop with three small group semesters or cycles a year, so that people can easily join and leave groups.
- Discipleship is “by choice”—meaning that people will join groups or take classes that they need when they need them.
The key assumption behind New Life’s small group and discipleship philosophy is that people in the 21st century don’t want to be told what to do. They want choices. Another assumption is that, like businesses in a free market economy, healthy groups will flourish while unhealthy groups will die. So we should encourage a diversity of different types of groups and allow things to naturally thrive or wither.
Some current models….
Basic Cell Group Model (Willow Creek Community Church)
What it looks like: Typically groups are formed either by a single leader or a group coming out of a class or group launching program. It is an ongoing group that meets (usually weekly) to discuss a Bible study, share prayer requests, and – for some – share a meal together. Typically, the groups are open, meaning anyone can join any group at any time. Group members are encouraged to invite their Christian and non-Christian friends to the meetings. Some churches are now encouraging those groups to also explore ways they can serve the community or church as individuals or as a group.
An ongoing group is a good example of Christian community. It provides a long-term source of friends who can support each other through life’s challenges. In an increasingly transient society, ongoing groups provide a good example of what true community can be. Shared histories and backgrounds can create a culture of openness and draw even the more quiet members into the conversation.
Also, since this is the primary way small groups are done today, there are many resources available on how to create a program like this.
Semester System (National Community Church)
What it looks like: Churches have three or four “semester” each year, and all groups run on these time tables. Often they mirror the school system. For instance, at National Community Church, they have Fall and Spring semesters and a shorter Summer semester that mainly consists of larger group classes. All commitments only last 8 to 12 weeks. They publish a small group guide at the beginning of each semester that shows what groups are available, what they will be focusing on, and when they meet.
In essence, the pros and cons of a semester system are the opposite of those of a basic cell group model. This system works very well for areas with a transient population. NCC is in Washington, D.C., and primarily made up of Capitol Hill staffers. The turnover is great from year to year. This model also provides natural in and out points for leaders and group members. It’s easy to jump in at the beginning of a semester and make a limited commitment. It also provides a natural rhythm for leader training, group promotion, etc.
Closed, Seasonal Groups (North Point Community Church)
What it looks like: Groups begin at a central meeting and are closed for an 18- to 24-month commitment. New people can be added only if the whole group signs off on it. The idea is that new people can disrupt the growth of the group. In this model, groups are a central part of discipleship. North Point’s goal is “to provide a predictable small-group environment where participants experience authentic community and spiritual growth.” Closed groups, for them, help to provide that predictable environment. Every newcomer is welcome to join a group, but every person must start at the beginning through one of their group connection events.
Focused groups can become much closer through the time of their commitment. There is a simple, consistent way to funnel new people into groups.
Mission-based Groups (Mosaic Church and others)
What it looks like: Most groups begin with the idea that they will serve the community together in some way. The problem is, few ever get to that goal. Alan Hirsch says that if we start with the goal of community and plan to get to mission, we’ll never arrive there. But if we start with mission, community will happen along the way. Increasingly, churches are experimenting with the idea that a group will form around a shared passion – serving the homeless, leading worship, or working in an after school program, to name a few. The group also meets for Bible study and socials alongside that involvement. Mission is built into the group from the beginning.
Once people are serving together, Bible study and community becomes more “alive” as it is needed to inform and feed the service. For some Christians, they have never “lived out” their faith in such a direct way, and that service along with Bible study can be an incredible discipleship tool.
Not nearly done yet!
In future posts, i’ll go into some detail of a few other models i’m aware of along with some detail of the Sadleback model and some hybrid models I have rolling around in my head.