We are in the middle of a shift where we are putting our primary focus on groups, and small groups serving together will be a vital part of that structure. We do okay getting groups to serve on one-offs or mission trips, but how can we get groups to serve together on a Sunday morning?
[Amanda Casto, Volunteer Coordinator, Crestview Baptist Church, Midland, TX]
Congratulations on thinking creatively with both your group and volunteer structure! This can be a healthy way to tie serving to discipleship, and a great way to bolster your volunteer roster. I have seen small groups serve together with great success: they’ve added a new dimension to their group life and added a new level to “iron sharpening iron.” But…well-intentioned plans like this can also backfire, damaging the existing volunteer team, breeding cynicism in the group members being asked to serve, causing polar ice caps to melt, ripping a hole in the time-space continuum, and basically ending the universe as we know it. (You know, not to be overly-dramatic.)
So here are seven things I’d encourage you to think through as you’re making this switch:
1. Maximize your one-offs.
You mentioned some success in your “one-off” opportunities. I assume you mean larger church events like Christmas Eve and Easter services. I wrote about our one-off philosophy here, but I would encourage you to use those moments to let your groups dip their toes in the water. As our church approaches our Christmas Eve services, we will have several groups that opt to serve together, and many of those group members will be serving for the first time.
2. Remember the rule of two.
I spent a few minutes on your website, and it appears that you have both Life Groups that meet off-campus during the week and Bible Study Groups that meet on-campus on Sunday morning. A dual groups strategy is another topic for another day, but I’ve found that typically, people will commit to no more than two blocks of “church time” on the weekend. In other words, you can get them to attend worship and a small group, attend worship and serve, or attend a small group and serve. It’s going to be the rare (and frazzled) volunteer who attempts to do all three. That brings me to the next point:
3. Determine the rhythm of groups serving together.
If we’re talking about Sunday morning Bible study Groups, this question is crucial. Will “Small Group X” serve every week? Once per month? Once per quarter? If it’s weekly, then something is going to get the shaft. You won’t be able to fully commit to a discipling track or a serving time. If it’s quarterly, the downside is that groups remain in a perpetual cycle of rustiness: by the time their shift rolls around again, they’ve forgotten what they’re supposed to be doing. If there is a disadvantage to monthly, that means that you’re cutting 25% of your Bible study time…assuming that your group members attend every week. (And you know the answer to that: they don’t.)
For weekday small groups, you don’t have to stare down the “rule of two” quite as much, but you are still asking someone to give up three time blocks, whether that’s every week, one time per month, or once per quarter. The alternative solution is to encourage groups to trade in their group time for serving time on the week that they serve.
My point is, you have to have consensus with group leaders on what this will look like, because serving may effectively gut teaching during a group’s “on” week.
4. Decide if groups are your primary or secondary volunteer strategy.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If your small groups are a secondary strategy, they can serve as the icing on your volunteer cake. In those situations I’d encourage you to think like a baker: the cake needs to comprise 75% or more of the base. In other words, the regular volunteers need to hold the majority position. Otherwise you’ll have the tail wagging the dog, and that never works out well.
If your small groups are a primary strategy, you have to consider the “perpetual cycle of rustiness” that I mentioned above. Are group members having to be re-trained every time they show up? Is it wise to have a constant turnover of volunteers (even if they’re eventually rotating back in)? And have your small groups been placed in areas where they can really thrive? (More on that in point 5.)
Regardless of the strategy you choose, the assumption is that someone on your team will own the volunteer plan, and that same someone will be fully in charge of the volunteers in a particular ministry (kids, guest services, etc.) every time a new roster of groups shows up to serve. I think that’s the only way you can hope to protect the DNA of your volunteer teams and make sure that the ministry feels the same each week, even if it’s made up of different people.
5. Recognize that not every group member carries the same strength.
Let’s be realistic: if you take a small group of twelve people, not everyone in that group will have the people skills necessary to serve on your guest services team. Not everyone in that group will feel comfortable serving with kids. Not everyone will have the technical know-how to work in the sound booth. The point? Don’t adapt a one-size-fits-all approach to groups serving together. This is one of the biggest drawbacks I see in this model: assuming that there’s strength in numbers and “anybody can do it.” No, not anybody can do it. We need to mine the groups for particular strengths and skill sets, and consider offering options that different components of the groups can choose. Some can serve in guest services. Some will gravitate towards kids. A few will opt for the set-up team. They’re still serving with friends from their group, just not with all of the group.
6. Build buy-in for your group members.
Since this is a new test for your church, you will get the “I didn’t sign up for this” pushback. Some group members want to do Bible study and that’s it. Some have intentionally stepped away from serving. Others are going to feel like they’re a part of a bait-and-switch tactic. I would encourage you to roll this out slowly, with a lot of vision and “why” behind the reason you’re doing this. Start with your group leaders and make sure you’re all talking from the same page. A disgruntled or ill-informed leader can sabotage this plan before it gets started.
7. Pre-engineer your evaluation system.
Decide now what a win looks like. Set time stamps (three months, six months, one year, etc.) where the planning team comes back to the table and asks, “Is this working?” And then have the humility and courage to admit if it’s not. You don’t want a system that’s easier or simpler or pragmatic, you want a system that actually works.
photo credit: Summit Church