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He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” (Luke 13:18-21).
There is a problem with success in ministry. Something we don’t like. Something unpleasant.
A successful ministry should grow. People say they’d rather have depth in their ministry than have numbers, and people have been very badly burnt out on numbers-based ministry.
But the reality is, we don’t get to choose between growth in numbers and growth in spiritual depth. The reality is, we’re supposed to do both. In fact, you can’t truly have one without the other.
A ministry that doesn’t have numbers isn’t making disciples. And if you’re not making disciples, I don’t care how spiritually deep you say you’re growing. You’re wrong. You cannot grow spiritually deep without making disciples. Christ called us to make disciples. So if you’re not making disciples, you’re being disobedient to Christ. There’s nothing spiritually deep about disobeying Christ.
On the other hand, you can grow numerically without growing spiritually deep. But then you’re not actually making disciples, either. You’re just attracting a crowd. And once you stop being spectacular or interesting, they’ll all leave. You didn’t do ministry; you did an event.
Some people play this up as if there’s a tension between the two. But the reality is you don’t get one without the other. Numerical growth is symptomatic of spiritual growth.
But this causes complications.
The biggest thing I’ve seen is that we don’t want to stop having the tight, close-knit family atmosphere we had when we were small. In a ministry of 20, it’s easy to know everyone’s name and everything about them. You’re not just friends; you’re family. But in a group of 200, that’s much more difficult.
But notice I didn’t say impossible. It’s difficult, not impossible.
How do you keep that family atmosphere in a large group?
When you’re a small ministry of 20 and you have that tight-knit family atmosphere, it’s awesome. And people will be attracted to it. And if you’re growing together spiritually, you will grow numerically. And it will get more and more difficult to keep that family atmosphere going in your ministry.
You have to transition to small group ministry.
But here’s the big secret: you always were a small group ministry.
When your ministry is a group of 20, you are a ministry of one co-ed small group. You didn’t really have a large-group meeting; that was a small group. And most ministries start as a small group. And they should.
You start as the mustard seed. You start as the pinch of leaven. That’s the good and healthy thing to do.
And then you start to grow.
And as you grow, you add more small groups. Where you were one, you’ll now have two. Most likely, the first change will be from one co-ed small group to two single-sex small groups. And then three small groups, four, and so on.
And each small group recreates that close, family atmosphere that you love about the original group.
If your small groups are reproducing that atmosphere, then your ministry as a whole—and your large group meeting of 200—will have that same atmosphere.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45).
What you create on the small scale is what you create on the large. If you want a large group ministry with that close, family atmosphere, you need small groups that create it.
If you want your large group ministry to feel like family, you need to make sure that family is part of the DNA of your small groups.
So as you get ready for the new year, ask yourself: What do I want my Chi Alpha ministry to look like?
Now ask yourself: How am I going to make that happen?
How are you going to make your small group like a family? What are you going to do to make this happen?
Start planning it out now. You’ve got a month until school starts. Picture what you want your small group to look like. Write it down. Now start figuring out how you’re going to make it happen.
Start writing down ideas—any ideas; don’t sort out the bad ones yet. Just start writing down ways you might make it happen. Then choose three to start out with; the three you think are the most doable. And start figuring out how you’re going to do that. And build from there.
Your ministry doesn’t have to become more impersonal and less family-like when it gets big. As a leader, it’s your job to figure out how you’re going to keep that a part of the DNA of your group. And, by the grace and guidance of God, it’s something you can do!
All views expressed on this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, U.S.A., U.S. Missions, and The General Council of the Assemblies of God.