I am involved in planting a congregation for young adults in Central London. When The Sanctuary was about 6 months old we experimented with starting a small group: Little Sanctuary. Now, I am a great believer in small groups and believe that the larger a community grows, the smaller it needs to become so as to keep people connected to one another and to the vision of the organisation.
Unfortunately, Little Sanctuary struggled to get going and though we did share some good times together I knew that it would be difficult to start more when I considered our lack of resources and people willing to organise and lead them. I’m now going to let you into a little secret: leading small groups are HARD WORK and don’t let anyone ever tell you different!
So I decided that we should make our main gathering weekly instead (an unpopular decision with some at the time!) in an attempt to strengthen the community so that we could try small groups again. A little over a year later and I sensed that the community was in a place where it could now sustain small groups.
Our first three small groups were launched in September 2007. They lived and flourished.
This term and we have 4, not to mention our wonderful gospel choir too, with around 40 people in small groups. This time the groups have momentum and the leaders are hugely invested in them and doing a wonderful job.
I also learned a lot from our earlier experience, notably: 1) As Central London is a very transient place we work on a 3 month basis for any group. 2) Our leaders are asked to commit to leading for a term at a time with a get out clause! 3) Our leaders are encouraged to sit a term out and either do nothing or attend another group because the burn out rate for small group leaders is generally high in the UK church. 4) Each group has a specific focus: Boiler room is about exploring prayer; Beta is a follow on from the Alpha course helping to disciple newer christians; Frenzy is a more general pastoral group interacting with culture; and Deeper is a theological group looking at doctrine and church history etc. Soul Gym met last term and explored the Spiritual Disciplines... In effect we are building a portfolio of specialised and more general groups with a (kind of) “blue print” for each...
Having these focused, short term groups is really working for us at this stage in our life together and that is another key lesson too. This works for us now, it might not in 2 years time! However, we hope to add another group or two after Easter which will be a leap of faith for us.
All this has been a great lesson in the importance of timing and the power of waiting until things have built to the right stage. If you try something too early and you run the risk of unnecessary failure. However, if you do fail, never let it stop you from trying again a little way down the road!