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Small Group Ministry: An Interview with Ben Reed

January 16, 2014, 0 Comments

Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow Church, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN area. You can follow him regularly at BenReed.net. He recently published the book Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint.” In it, Ben helps you through the process of putting a small group ministry together and guiding it to thrive as the central place of ministry in your church.

You can journey along with Ben at BenReed.net!

StartingSmall_CoverPN: If you had to sum up the book in 2 sentences, what would they be?

Healthy, biblical, authentic community has significantly marked my faith journey to the point that I want to help create pockets of these communities everywhere. And I don’t want to just help create them…I want them to be sustained for the long haul, creating disciples that create disciples.

Who is the primary audience for the book?

Ben: The primary audience for my book is the person who wants to help his/her small group grow, and help people take steps of faith. I think small group leaders, small group pastors, lead pastors, education directors, and small group coaches would benefit from it.

But it would also be a resource that a potential leader/apprentice could read and (hopefully) find helpful.

With respect to the volumes of small group literature available, what makes this book unique?

This book is intended to be read by a wider audience than just guys and gals who live and breathe small group life. I’ve kept it intentionally short…it’s just 70 pages…so that it can be consumed in shorter periods of time, and the principles I discuss more quickly implemented.

I’ve written from my experience of leading at the small group level and at the ministry-wide church level. I’ve seen small groups thrive…and wither. Through sharing my story, I hope to propel the former in cities around the world.

I loved the simple statement “party monthly” as a small group.  What helped you form that idea?

We have rhythms in so many others of life. At work. At home. With our hobbies. With our free time. Rhythms are the result of well-worn disciplines.

So I like to help groups start off developing a rhythm that promotes growth.

We gather weekly and party monthly.

Because, well, for one, Jesus followers tend to be pretty boring people. Which is not reflective of the beautiful God we serve! I love what the Psalmist says:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

    and our tongue with shouts of joy;

then they said among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them.

The Lord has done great things for us;

    we are glad. – Psalm 126:2-3

When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. And the flip-side must also be true. If our mouths aren’t filled with laughter, people become convinced that the God we serve isn’t good. That he doesn’t take delight in loving is people. That the God we proclaim as King is ultimately boring, and eternity will be a dull, lifeless “existence.” That’s not the story I want to tell.

So “partying monthly” is a vital rhythm of small group life.

What do you wish you had included in the book?

Actually, there was a lot I wish I included. Which is why I wrote the bonus section. Just head over to SmallGroupBluePrint.com, and fill out the form, and we’ll send it on over to you. I’ve included some small group sign-up cards you can customize, the sermon-based curriculum that we use (that is also customizable), and some extra stuff that I didn’t have room for in the book.

I’m excited to be giving that stuff away.

breedSo Ben, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been a prolific blogger.  What made you decide to write a book?

I felt like I had more to say than a series of blog posts could handle. I love blogging, but I was ready to be able to carry a sustained idea a little longer than a blog can.

The value of blogs is that they’re short and to-the-point. My book, though it’s intentionally short (70 pages), is a lot longer than you’d ever want to read on a blog post.

I love writing, and I really make sense of the world as I flesh my thoughts out that way. So the book was as helpful for me as it ever will be for anyone else.

Other than picking up a copy of Starting Small, what advice would you have for folks who are just beginning to lead a small group ministry?

Grab the best leaders you know. Not necessarily the most spiritual, the ones who have been following Jesus the longest, or the ones that know the most Bible, but the best leaders. The ones that people want to follow.

And ask them to journey through life with you in your small group. Invest in them. Help them grow. Let them experience authentic community, see the beauty and power in it, then deploy them to lead as you coach them through the process.

The first step you can take towards launching a small group ministry is to simply launch a small group of your own.

How can we help our group leaders become not just meeting facilitators but people who are making a significant investment in the lives of the people in their groups?

Help them see that the value of groups is not found in completing a curriculum, checking a box that says you “met,” or in coming to all of the right trainings.

The value of a small group is in people taking steps of faith together.

And when you see groups doing that, celebrate it!

Because what’s celebrated is what’s replicated. So when you “catch” someone doing the right thing, let them, and everyone else, know it.

In the book, you give strategies to coordinate the launch of small groups and some tips for small groups themselves. Who’s the intended audience of the book? Small group leaders, or coordinators of lots of small groups at church level, or an altogether different group of people?

It’s all of the above. Really, it’s anyone who wants to improve the health and effectiveness of their small group, or their overall church’s strategy for launching, and sustaining, small group health. Small group leaders, small group pastors, lead pastors, education directors, and apprentice/not-yet leaders would benefit from it.

In one sentence, how do you want this book to impact its readers?

I want them to feel the weight of exhilarating possibility and responsibility placed on them by God to steward the gift of community.

You keep on telling us that small group members shouldn’t be passive information-soakers – for instance “When they’re running efficiently, then everybody contributes. Everybody has a role. And everybody feels valued because of the contribution they’re making.”; or, in reference to Ephesians 4:12, that we should “develop contributors, not customers”. How do we, practically, achieve that?

You start developing this culture through the leader. Instead of setting up leaders to be “teachers” in the sense that they’re the keepers of the information, and the one who answers all of the questions because they’re the “expert,” the leader should value group discussion and collaboration.

If the leader feels the need to be the first to answer every question, the first to say the “right” answer, and the first to come up with every “good” idea, your community will be a soaking, rather than a contributing, community.

I help leaders value varying gifts in their small group, and share the responsibility of leadership, rather than hoarding that gift. As they share responsibility, they help others take ownership.

“I didn’t abandon relationships. I just abandoned the intentionality of them, settling for versions of community much safer.” What makes small groups unsafe?

What’s “unsafe” about small groups? Your sin. Your comfort. Your “easy” life. Your “clean” life. Your “clean” hands. Not caring about people.

Small groups throw you right into the middle of real life ministry. And there’s nothing safe or easy about that.

But it’s so, so good.

What motivated you to write Starting Small?

I realized that the problems we were facing in the ministry I led were the same ones that I was having conversations about with so many other groups folks from around the country who were wanting to start a groups ministry, or take their current one to the next level. The book was an overflow of the conversations I’ve been having for the past 6 years.

Who did you write it for?  Who do you see really benefitting from the book?

The primary audience for my book is the person who wants to help his/her small group grow, and help people take steps of faith. I think small group leaders, small group pastors, lead pastors, education directors, and small group coaches would benefit from it.

But it would also be a resource that a potential leader/apprentice could read and (hopefully) find helpful.

As an aging whippersnapper, can you give us a preview of 2 or 3 key lessons you’ve learned that will really benefit the readers of Starting Small?

One thing that I believe a lot of small group guys miss is what I call “partying monthly.” We have rhythms in so many others of life. At work. At home. With our hobbies. With our free time. Rhythms are the result of well-worn disciplines.

So I like to help groups start off developing a rhythm that promotes growth.

We gather weekly and party monthly.

Because, well, for one, Jesus followers tend to be pretty boring people. Which is not reflective of the beautiful God we serve!

When our mouths are filled with laughter, others are convinced that God has done great things among us. And the flip-side must also be true. If our mouths aren’t filled with laughter, people become convinced that the God we serve isn’t good. That he doesn’t take delight in loving is people. That the God we proclaim as King is ultimately boring, and eternity will be a dull, lifeless “existence.” That’s not the story I want to tell.

So “partying monthly” is a vital rhythm of small group life.

I’d also say that one thing I’ve found most helpful is strategic “start” times, instead of a constant drip of starting new groups. We launch groups around strategic times through the year, and that’s been a huge win for us.

Thanks for taking some time to share some great information with us. I’m looking forward to see how your book helps churches in the years ahead.

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