Small groups form for various reasons:
- accountability groups
- fellowship/sharing groups
- mutual interest groups
- outreach groups
- prayer groups
- recreational groups
- service groups
- study/discipleship groups
- support/recovery groups
- training groups
- work/ministry groups
The purpose of the group will determine the focus and primary agenda of the group.
Establishment of a group's purpose is critical to its success. Without a clear purpose, the group may engage in much activity but never seem to accomplish anything of real impact. Because they are trying to do too much, they do not tend to do anything well.
Communication of the group's purpose is critical to its success. When people go into a group unsure of the purpose for the group, their expectations are often unmet and commitment wanes.
Regardless of its purpose, a small group provides one of the best opportunities to shepherd people.
Some types of groups will lend themselves more easily to shepherding but certain factors make almost any small group a potential vehicle for shepherding those within it.
- The potential for two-way communication increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for involvement in one another's lives increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for body life principles to be practiced increases, the smaller the group.
- The potential for the practical effects of what it means to be a priesthood of believers increases, the smaller the group.
Discerning the condition of the sheep tends to be easier, the smaller the group.
The smaller sphere of influence enables the shepherd to become more meaningfully involved in the life of everyone in the group thus increasing knowledge of the people being shepherded.
Through the course of the group's agenda, the shepherd will be able to observe as people participate and listen as they interact with others. The larger the group, the less opportunity for total participation becomes and thus the shepherd learns less about each individual.
Meaningful one-on-one conversations can often take place before and after the group meeting with many of the people increasing natural opportunities to learn about the needs, interests, and condition of people's lives.
Small groups are a small network that fits within a bigger network increasing the potential for effective shepherding.
Small groups fall short of their potential when they become islands to themselves. Small groups must remember that they are part of a whole. Their development should fit within the overall purpose of the church. Their growth should add to the overall progress of the church. Their ministry should be mutually beneficial. The small group may sometimes need the resources of the larger network or other small groups. The total church ministry may sometimes need the contribution of the smaller network.
Even if the small group has a shepherd leader, it will need to pull on the resources within the group to come along side of the leader where the leader is not gifted or does not have the time. While having others within the group with the gift of pastor would be helpful, those with other spiritual gifts may assist in the process in specific ways.
Exposure to a variety of gifting and perspectives increases the potential for needs to be met. While one-on-one mentoring or discipleship relationships can be very effective, the person being shepherded receives only one perspective and ministry is tempered by the gifting of the mentor or discipler. In a small group people receive input from a variety of perspectives and have the potential of benefiting from a variety of gifts.
Deficiencies in small groups may pull people away from the Chief Shepherd rather than drawing them toward Him.
If a shepherding ministry does not point people to the Chief Shepherd and His power and provision, it is unhealthy and will tend to produce dependent or crippled sheep rather than whole and productive sheep.
- Small group dynamics can be unhealthy.
- Small group leadership can be detrimental.
The Shepherding Ministry Manual gives some brief input about how these deficiencies can be unhealthy and detrimental to small groups. It also stresses the need for small group leadership training since they are largely responsible for what happens in that group and the degree of shepherding that takes place. In addition you will find some questions for further evaluation and reflection.