The Power of Process in a Small Group Strategy

by Paul on January 26, 2009

I want to be burdened by fruit, not fat.  So when a friend commented that our approach to small groups seemed a little heavy on process, he got my attention.  So I spent the last few weeks thinking about process and small groups.  Here are some of my thoughts. 

Process is Unavoidable 

You can introduce process into your small groups, or the group will adopt processes of their own.  You can’t stop it.  People always create process in a vacuum.  If you leave a vacuum and they adopt processes that don’t get the results you hoped for, it’s your fault. 

People revert to familiar process if a different process isn’t injected into their small group DNA.  These processes may come from three places:

  1. A Christian culture that encouraged obedience to Christ and replication of things He teaches.
  2. A Christian culture that encouraged ‘showing up’ but didn’t have any system for encouraging obedience.
  3. A non-Christian or counter-Christian culture. 

Do you want processes in place that do not encourage obedience and replication or that may come from a non-Christian or counter-Christian culture?  If you have a small group of new Christians, are do you want their non-Christian culture to influence the small group process? 

‘Ad Hoc’ Processes Will Wear You Out 

Even if you say you don’t have a process, you do.  It’s called an ‘Ad Hoc’ Process – your small groups create whatever processes they want and you have to deal with them regardless.  Ultimately, an ‘Ad Hoc’ Process will wear you out.  You don’t have enough manpower or time to deal with the unique problems of each group as you increase the number of small groups.  An ‘Ad Hoc’ Process also creates a great demand for very experienced leaders who can spend lots of time dealing with the plethora of situations created by the process itself.  It’s exhausting, to say the least! 

 Leadership Dependant Processes Slow Growth 

Many organizations that claim they don’t focus on processes really do.  They just spend their time teaching their small group leaders the processes they want them to use in their small groups.  The small group leader is the process and, in many cases, the process breaks down if the leader is unavailable.  The growth rate of a system based on Leadership Dependant Processes is determined by the capacity of the organization to recruit and train leaders. 

A Silly Parable about Process

Imagine that I gave you a list of ingredients and a picture of a cake and told you to get started, how would you feel?  What if I told you that your capacity as a leader was judged on how fast you could make that cake and others like it?  If you are like me, you’d ask for a recipe.  If they didn’t give you one, you might try to create your own or you might get one from your mom that sorta fit the ingredients you have.  

Now imagine this:  Suppose you used the ingredients to make a cake that matched the picture.  You feel great!  The person who gave you the assignment walks in and praises you for making a cake that matches the picture.  Then they pull out a fork, take a bite, and look disappointed.  “It doesn’t taste like it’s supposed to.” They complain. 

“But I matched the picture.” you respond, “How was I supposed to know how it tastes?” 

“You just know.” the person says as they walk away, leaving you disappointed and a bit angry. 

This parable may sound absurd, but it describes how organizations often approach small groups.  They give people ingredients, paint a vision of the end result and leave them to fill in the void.  People figure out the recipe, or process, to produce what they think the organization wants.  Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t.  Regardless, they work themselves to the brink of burnout and the organization complains that what they produced doesn’t taste right.

 Is that fair?  Wouldn’t it be better to identify processes that create the results we want and inject those processes into our small groups in a way that the small group could replicate those processes into other groups? 

Three Things to Remember 

  1. Content and Process are inseparable. – This may be a little self explanatory, but you can’t work through a recipe, or process, without ingredients.  If you have the ingredients for chili following a cake recipe will not work.
  2. Content and Process are means to fulfill a Vision – I love recipes that have a picture of the finished product next to them.  After using the ingredients and following the recipe, I know what I have looks anything like the picture.  Vision casting is an important part of small groups.  What is it that you want those small groups to look like?  What does a successful small group do?
  3. Process is caught through modeling and reinforced by and through replication.  See the cake being made.  Follow the recipe to make the same cake.  Teach someone else to follow the recipe to make the cake.

 As You Develop Your Small Group Process 

  1. Process must be simple. – If it is too difficult, it won’t reproduce.  If it is too difficult, people might decide that it’s not worth their trouble.
  2. Process must be cultureless.  – Reproducing culture is difficult and time consuming.  Seminaries take four years to teach content, process and culture.  How long would it take to just teach content and process?  Here is a clue:  If you give an example to a group of how to obey a particular passage, you are probably transmitting culture.  If you ask the group to give you an example of someone obeying a passage, you allow them to develop obedience within their culture.
  3. Processes must be Reproducible.  – Can someone reproduce your process after three or four meetings?  Most groups establish their group culture by the third meeting.  Can any member take the process and share it with a family member who didn’t attend that meeting?  Could they do it after the first meeting?  Is replication part of your process?
  4. Process introduces DNA. – What do you want your groups to do?  How do you want them to behave as a group and when they are outside the group? If you want them to obey Scripture, that must be part of the group process from the beginning.  If you want them to tell their friends, that must be part of your first meeting. 
  5. Process must be adaptable without sacrificing DNA. – Can your small group reproduce your process online, offline, via text messages, and via instant messenger without sacrificing your DNA?

Process is very powerful and shouldn’t be ignored.  In fact, it must be part of your strategy and your plan from the beginning.  You and your leadership should spend quite a bit of your time identifying and evaluating process.

Thoughts? Comments?

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