Naming Your Small Group Ministry

Posted in community, discipleship by Nathan Creitz on April 16, 2009

I hate trying to figure out titles for church related ministries. It’s not always necessary. Titles tend to confine a person or organization into a narrowed definition. On the other hand, “small group ministry” as a title is merely descriptive and doesn’t tell you anything about the goals and purpose of the groups.

Description or Purpose?

In my previous church we used the term “community groups” to indicate that we were hoping to foster community by being intentional about meeting together with a small group of people. Not bad. There are “fellowship groups”, “life groups”, “home groups” and “Bible-study groups”. These titles tend to intentionally or unintentionally, for better or worse, confine your group to focus on fellowship or on life or on homes or on the Bible.

Some of those titles are descriptive, others have to do with the purpose of the group. A home group simply indicates that the group meets in a home. A life group indicates that the group wants to learn how to live life together as followers of Jesus. You get the idea. Each title gives a description or a purpose to the group. There is nothing wrong with any of these terms. The problem is choosing one.

Jesus’ Small Group Ministry

So, I’ve been asking myself a question: What do we call the “small group” of people that Jesus led? We usually call them the Disciples. Well, that small group has gotten to be pretty large as all of us who follow Christ are disciples. That’s good to remember when we encourage small group leaders to foster growth in their groups. “The Disciples” is a good term because it tells us who they are and the purpose for which they are together is presumably for discipleship.

The Disciples were also called The Twelve. Twelve is a descriptive term that merely reflects that this close-knit group was, in fact, small. It wouldn’t do to call our small groups “The Twelve”. Like, “I’m going to go hang out with the Twelve tonight.” Especially if your group actually consists of nine members. A descriptive term merely describes reality. That’s why “small group” is a basic term that is functional and helpful even though people will say, “But ‘small group’ isn’t in the Bible” or “That sounds so formal.” Fine, it’s got its pros and cons but it doesn’t hurt anything to refer to gatherings of a small group of people as small groups.

My Favorite Names for Groups

Anyway, all of this reflection has led me to rank these names for small groups in order of personal preference:

1. Discipleship Groups (81% satisfaction) – It’s descriptive, it indicates the purpose of the group but it also reminds us of who we are: disciples. I’m basing this group name on my reflection of the question “What do we call the small group that Jesus led?” I think this is my new favorite name for small groups.

2. Life Groups (74% satisfaction) – I think Life Groups is a pretty good name. A healthy small groups ministry will be encouraging people to not only believe but to live the Truth. It’s important for us to put our faith in action. If Christians were living the life they were supposed to our country and our world would be a different place. A small group is a warm and loving environment where faithful followers of Jesus are incubated to maturity.

3. Absolutely No Name (58% satisfaction) – There would be some benefit to going completely organic and going out of our way not to give these gatherings a name. The problem here is that if we are too loose and eschew any sense of order and structure then that’s exactly what we will get. No definitions, no values, no set times, no stated purpose, etc. = perish. The Laws of Entropy apply even to our church and our small groups. As many people have noted before me; structure is like the fireplace and the Spirit is the fire. No one is trying to suggest that the success of any group has to do exclusively with what it’s called or with it’s vision statement. Still, there is some value to intentionally going with no names…it just doesn’t go in the bulletin very well. I tend towards less structure but I value a sense of guidance and organization here and there.

What does your church use to describe or give purpose to your small groups? What are the limitations to giving groups of people some sort of name? What are the benefits?

Related Post: The Case for Community ::  Subscribe ::

6 Responses

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  1. Jon Reid said, on April 16, 2009 at 5.14 pm

    I’d say the name is less important than the role and function of such groups in a church: What are they? Are they inward or outward focused? Are the groups considered full “members” of the church in the sense of accomplishing the mission of the church? Are they considered less/as/more important than the large gathering?

    You’re right, none of this is conveyed by calling something a “small group.” Creating an ethos, a common understanding of purpose, is harder than coming up with a name. Conversely, once you have a clear purpose, the name (almost) doesn’t matter!

  2. Nathan Creitz said, on April 17, 2009 at 8.28 am

    Jon – Thanks for the comment. I absolutely agree…which is why I don’t like coming up with names. It’s not that important. I think the main reason I’m trying to come up with something is because currently our bulletin and our announcements to new people in our church is all over the map. Do we invite them to our home group on Wednesday, our Bible study fellowship on Sunday night, our women’s Bible study or our ladies’ Bible study? It’s too confusing when they are all virtually the same thing with a little nuance here or there. I consider the small groups of our church to be the main process by which we make disciples. They need to be close-knit groups so there needs to be a focus on fellowship (true koinonia), but in addition to going deeper relationally, we need to go deeper Biblically. For too long, prayer and Bible study were the only things you did in a group, but if you don’t know the people you are spending time with then it’s not as rich and transformaitonal.

    So, all that to say, absolutely the focus needs to be on content, on what is the purpose of the group. Only then do we wrestle with the mundane task of coming up with a name that helps describe to other people what it’s all about.

  3. Brian Barela said, on April 17, 2009 at 11.03 am

    hey nathan just wanted to say hi. i follow you on twitter and just saw this link from benson hines’ blog to yours.

    he participated in our cccblogference this year and it was great getting to know his heart and work in college ministry. it surprised me to see that he was connected to you.

    the christian minister’s blog world is truly small.

    i just added your blog to my rss reader so i can stay up to date! take care!

  4. Nathan Creitz said, on April 17, 2009 at 1.25 pm

    Thanks for dropping in Brian – yeah, but Ben really gets around as you must know. He came up here to Boston last year and I was pastoring a church plant that was reaching college students. So, he and I got to know each other a little bit. I’ve read his new book that will be coming out in a few days (20th) and will hopefully provide a link on ChurchETHOS when it comes out. I highly recommend it. Plus it’s free!

  5. Brian Barela said, on April 19, 2009 at 9.34 pm

    nice. i’ll look for the book. thanks!

  6. Oak said, on July 26, 2009 at 5.38 pm

    Commenting months later….

    Ethos…yet another buzzword used by churches.

    “They need to be close-knit groups so there needs to be a focus on fellowship (true koinonia), but in addition to going deeper relationally, we need to go deeper Biblically.”
    I think “true koinonia” is the effect of growing deeper in the knowledge of Scripture. It cannot happen apart from it, otherwise it would not be called “koinonia.” Fellowship and deeper Scripture knowledge ought not to be separated.

    How about a name like Shepherd Groups?

    Thanks for posting this subject.

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