Previously, only a few people at the top had all the power. Those who live in thin air near or at the top of an org chart, the greater the weight of their opinions and influence. Only the leaders at the top, the people in front, had both the authority and the power to make an impact. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this more or less effectively. Our church was raising funds for a large building project. We were still thinking about our part and had not yet put our commitment card. In the middle of a chat with friends after worship on a Sunday, the senior pastor came over and told us, in his own words, “Come on board.” (You can imagine what we thought.) But two important small group trends are changing the landscape of leadership.
But the days when high-ranking leaders had all the influence are fast slipping away. These days are not just setting sail, but are heading towards the horizon.
Two Small Group Trends Changing the Direction of the Church
- “Trust in many old and centralized institutions is rapidly declining, eroding their authority and gatekeeper role (1).”
Structured and formal power is replaced by informal power. Instead of influence coming from the people at the top, it comes from peers, people who can reach out to neighbors and friends. It goes from pyramid hierarchies to flat networks. Where people connect. Where the rubber meets the road.
- “Networked, decentralized, autonomous and collaborative models of power” will become the norm. “Power is already changing dramatically, but there is still much to do”(2).
This is one of the reasons why small groups are the most effective and influential forces for God. And as more and more people move away from traditional power structures, the greater will be the role that small groups will play in the church of Jesus Christ.
And with this seismic change, a lot of things are changing. Here are four practical tips for increasing your influence in your small group ministry.
4 Tips for Leadership in the Face of Small Group Trends
- Tools – most of the traditional and fundamental tools of leadership are changing. What worked before no longer produces results. It’s less about forcing and more about being friendly, gentle, persuasive. In the words of Billy Welu, “It’s not always the heavy hand, but the tender touch.”
- Communication – conventional wisdom and tools for connecting with people are changing. What worked now either falls on deaf ears or ends up in a Spam folder. Use short, memorable tomes rather than wordy ones. Include images that will generate an emotional response.
- Relationships – It was always about people. But now the extra dimension of depth has been added. Building deep, lasting and trustworthy relationships is task number one. You have to earn the right to be heard, and that requires transparency.
- Speed – Before, it was about getting things done quickly, at the speed of authority. Now it’s about getting things done at the speed of the community. Sharing of authority and responsibility. Give people information and time to draw their own conclusions
I think Esther Chapter 2 is a great illustration of these principles in action. Mordecai could certainly have removed the old pattern of authoritarian leadership. He could have tried to guilt her into doing something. After all, he had adopted and raised her. He could have tried to force her into something “NOW”.
But instead, Mordecai gives Esther more than just information. He gives her time. It’s time to get the news. It didn’t come in a long email. She had time to process it. It is time to react to it. It’s time to address their questions and concerns. It is only after having committed herself to it that she utters these memorable words: “And if I perish, I perish.”
The easiest thing to do is follow the well-worn path of the past. But it will cost us and the church dearly. We will continue to lose younger generations who have grown up with strong models of collaboration and power sharing.
Given these breakout trends we have to move. We have to shift our weight. We have to start, share power, information and authority. This is how we really increase the power. And the best place to do all of this is in small groups.
(1) Leading Through an Age of Discontinuity, by Eamonn Kelly and Jason Girzadas
(2) CEO Daily by Alan Murray, April 4, 2022
This article on small group trends originally appeared hereand is used with permission.