I recently asked on Small Group Network’s Facebook page, “What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your small group ministry?”
A friend replied, “A big challenge is serving in a church that does small groups but also wants to do a million other discipleship ministries/ venues simultaneously…”
A common temptation in ministry is to go after discipleship with more, more, and more! A congregation member or senior leader will pitch a need or gap in the community. It’s hard not to want to create an offering to “fix” the problem. More is better, right?
Or, perhaps ministry offerings exist from a vision or plan that is no longer current. These are hard to end or transition. Grandfathered programs can stack the deck and make it feel like your church is going in too many different directions. This confuses our congregations and taxes our staffs.
Small group point people work under the banner of discipleship. Here we are especially prone to what project managers call “scope creep.” Scope creep refers to new and different ideas that expand our original intentions and plans. You may be kicking off a campaign in the fall and someone suggests you host Spanish speaking groups. The scope of your original project has grown.
Tom Kendrick, project management author, tells us that new opportunities and interesting ideas might be good, but they generate “a perpetual temptation to redefine the project and make it “better”.”
Making the project “better” is a good thing, but we need to be earnestly careful when we “redefine the project.” Redefining affects our staff, members, leaders, budgets, message, etc. Sometimes we don’t feel these effects immediately, but they impact us regardless.
Those Spanish speaking small groups would definitely benefit the members of the groups. However, they might tax your staff. Your communications staff might not be equipped to translate materials. Recruiting leaders for these groups might be a huge hurdle. The end state idea is “better,” but as leaders we need to consider the road that leads there.
So how do we navigate these questions? As a pastor, you see endless new opportunities and interesting ideas for your congregation. How do we grow our ministries without losing track of the ultimate goal?
Since the church is living, growing, and moving there is no single answer. But there are questions and answers that your team can develop together. There is no single right answer for every church, but there is a right answer for your church. Start asking the right questions and you’ll be able to diagnose the problem.
- Define the project: You can’t assess scope creep until you have identified your scope. Get with your leadership team and put some real handles on your philosophy of discipleship. What should it look like in your context? What is spiritual growth characterized by? What are the specific life changes you are driving towards?
- Minimum requirements: Remember when software and computer programs were sold in boxes? They always had the “minimum requirements” listed on the back. What are the “minimum required offerings” to grow people in your congregation? Drive your team to identify what is necessary and label everything else accordingly.
- How do groups fit in? Groups can be part of the problem or part of the solution. Has your leadership team considered filling gaps with small groups? Small groups can meet almost any specific need with proper content and training. Larger programs like Financial Peace University and Alpha make use of small groups. They understand what many churches have come to realize. A thriving small groups ministry can reduce scope creep and keep congregation members engaged and growing long term.