They say the "right"
"Sunday morning isn't the main event. The real
ministry happens in our small groups."
"Life change happens in circles, not in rows."
More ministry leaders are arriving at an intellectual
or spoken conclusion that effective ministry is relational. They
may say that person-to-person interaction leads to far more
spiritual growth than a speech from the pulpit. But do their
actions really support this notion?
I've heard pastors from high-profile mega-churches
tout the ultimate ministry payoff through their small groups. And
I've heard youth pastors boast about the number of small groups
they've started. But a closer examination of their weekly
priorities may tell a different story.
Though many verbally acknowledge the value of their
relational ministries, they devote very little of their time or
attention to these ministries. Though they may say people
ultimately gain more from conversations and interactions with
others than from their sermons, they spend 30 hours in sermon
prep-and 15 minutes in small group prep.
It's often said you can accurately determine people's
real priorities by examining two things-their wallet and their
schedule. So, what might a church's financial and staff time
commitments tell us about the church's true priorities? How much
time and resources are devoted to small group involvement and other
relational ministries-vs. what is devoted to the Sunday morning
"For where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also."
While working on an upcoming documentary film on the
state of the church in America, I ran across a church in
Louisiana that pays more than lip service to its relational
ministries. The pastor, Wayne Northup, regularly lays out the
priorities for the congregation-using the metaphor of a meal.
Notice the emphasis here. He names the Sunday morning
service the Appetizer, "a place where you can get your taste buds
going." The Main Course, however, is small group involvement.
And he's very sincere about the weighting of this
meal. Wayne devotes major chunks of his time and attention to the
Main Course. All small group leaders go through 16 weeks of
training-on group dynamics, leadership, care-giving, theology, and
personal growth. They're required to read five books and do
multiple practical assignments.
The real work of ministry happens within these little
mini-congregations. They care for one another, discuss the Bible,
celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together, help one another
with residential moves, engage in community service, handle
personal crises, and make hospital calls. Group leaders and members
are accountable for outreach, discipleship, group multiplication,
and prayer support.
They are the church, the Body of Christ.