While most small group literature is of the, “Hey, this worked for me! So you should do it my way!” variety, Simple Small Groups by Bill Search is refreshingly…well…simple. Instead of providing a new model or method, Search wants to help make whatever model a church is using better (p. 13). In other words, Search’s advice can help just about any church with an already existing small group structure.
Search’s paradigm is…
Connecting: The Relational Pattern (chaps. 2-3)
Changing: The Growth Pattern (chaps. 4-5)
Cultivating: The Missional Pattern (chaps. 6-7).
Search is not reinventing the wheel here. He wants people to grow deeper in their relationships with one another in the group (Connecting). He wants people to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ through the group (Changing). And he wants people to grow deeper in their love for others by ministering to them as a group (Cultivating).
The benefit of his chapters on connecting, changing, and cultivating is twofold. First, Search provides a lot of practical advice on growing in each of those areas. Second, he also provides a list of questions to evaluate where your group currently lands. For example, he believes that there are three phases of connecting: meeting, committing, and belonging (p. 57). Each phase increases the level of intimacy and trust in the group. The questions he provides help diagnose the phase your group is currently in.
Harmony, Not Balance
Search argues that harmony, not balance, is the best way for groups to move forward (chaps. 8-9). Harmony has all three patterns working together, even if the group focuses on one pattern more than the others.
Have you ever done the “wheel” evaluation for your Christian life? If you haven’t, the gist of the “wheel” is this: you plot your scores on the spokes of a wheel concerning various spiritual disciplines. Then you connect your scores with a circle. If one “spoke” of the wheel is shorter than the other, then your Christian life is out of balance. The goal, then, is to balance out your Christian life.
Although certainly based on good intentions, I think the “wheel” overlooks a basic principle of Christian living: all Christians are gifted in different ways and every Christians has certain strengths and weakness. Of course, each Christian should attempt to take a step towards growth in a particular area, but it is unrealistic to believe that every Christian will become perfectly “balanced.” For example, in my own life, I am strong in Bible study and teaching. Yet, I am often weak in prayer. Does this mean that I never make an attempt to grow in prayer? May it never be! But it also means that instead of beating myself up over my lack of prayer, one solution might be to include a prayer partner into my ministry.
Similar logic can also apply to small groups. Leaders may want balance. A “balanced” small group would be equally good at connecting, changing, and cultivating. But if groups were judged by the balance they achieved, most would be deemed failures. Groups, by nature, will tend toward one pattern more than the others. The goal is not to artificially impose balance on groups, but rather have a group integrate all three patterns into its life, even if one is more of a priority than others.
Buy, Borrow, By-Pass: As a pastor overseeing the community life of the church, I bought this book and found it extremely helpful, so I recommend buying it, if that’s your area of oversight. Small group leaders would also serve themselves well to buy a copy.