The Five Deliverables of Small Groups (Thomas Rainer)


Last week, I [Thomas Rainer] wrote on the five myths of small groups. This week, I turn my attention to five deliverables of small groups. For a church to have transformational small groups, it must first recognize how its small groups will equip participants for the mission of God and the cause of Christ.

Today I examine how the activity of community within the context of small groups results in transformed lives.

Deliverable 1: Smaller communities deliver deeper friendships.

As our churches continue to grow larger, they must also grow smaller to connect people on a transformational level. We may not like to admit it, but we know when we are known, and we like it better that way. It has been said that our own name is the sweetest word in the world to us. Nothing is more personal and unique. Nothing gets a quicker or more emotional response.

For transformation to take place, we must know and invest in relationships with one another. By joining other Christians in small-group communities, believers can find the environment where life change can often occur most readily.

Deliverable 2: Smaller communities deliver accountability relationships.

The most valuable takeaway in a smaller community is the person sitting beside me. Our lives become a weekly narrative to one another of God’s faithfulness and our response. Connecting to a small group of friends means that we leave our halo at the door. The accountability living in a class or group helps us to live in the transformation brought about by Christ.

It might sound a bit strange, but the local church needs more provoking. We read, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). In the KJV the word promote is translated “provoke,” which provides a more vivid picture. We like the word provoke because it feels a bit more aggressive . . . of course in a positive, Christian way. Our nature is to be a sinner and drift away from God and His purposes. We need a bit of positive provocation to keep us on path through the accountability of friends.

So small groups cannot be just another program provided to those interested in . . . small groups. Smaller communities must be part of a commitment to spur one another on in our Christian commitment.

Deliverable 3: Smaller communities deliver environments for spiritual growth.

Attraction may get someone in the front door of a church on Sunday morning. The unchurched, previously churched, and church shoppers are looking for excitement, energy, and creativity. Churches have never been better at producing solid Sunday morning environments. But relational connection and life transformation in small groups will move them beyond the spectator level.

Also, what attracts them into the front door will not translate into personal transformation even if they attend multiple times. Initially they may only feel comfortable enjoying and engaging at a distance, but something must make them more involved in the action. One visit a week or a few visits a month are less evasive with less results. The nature of a smaller group results in another connecting point. In most churches new attendees only see multiple layers of structure and little relational space. Connecting them to a small community is critical for their spiritual journey.

Deliverable 4: Smaller communities deliver maximum participation.

Even the normal size church (seventy-five on Sunday morning) is driven by its worship service and is limited in the number of people who can participate. Transformational small groups require more than just attendance. Attendees must take responsibility for the long-term functionality of the group. The more responsibilities can be distributed, the healthier the group becomes. We believe in small communities that give everyone a job. Prayer leaders, home hosts, greeters, communications leaders, facilitators, and community mission leaders are just a few job opportunities in a small group. Normally small-group jobs are simple and do not require knowledge or experience. The group belongs to the group. When we get maximum participation, we get maximum buy-in for people engaged in God’s mission. That matters.

People need to move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles. Sitting in rows you are watching someone else using their gifts. You are more a passive spectator than an active participant. Small groups help people move from sitting in rows to sitting in circles and from sitting in circles to going into the world.

Deliverable 5: Smaller communities deliver missional opportunities.

The small groups in your church must be more than social or study groups. If they are biblical communities, something else must happen. They must be filled with people who hold to a missionary mentality ready to engage in the mission of the church. Mission will provide the glue for the group.

The group and classes will serve to minister to the members. But to keep the members ever transforming to look like Jesus, they must be given the opportunity to help the community reflect the kingdom of God. The goal of a group must be the multiplication of disciples for Jesus.

What is your small group delivering? Are you producing true disciples? Are you provoking one another to good deeds?


Adapted from Transformational Church (2010, B&H Publishing Group)