In the past three years, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on large worship gatherings in the church, pastors have attached importance to small group ministry. Some churches have started small group ministry, while others are eager to try it. Recently, I read several articles in some Christian media on small group ministry, which reflected the biggest difficulty of this ministry is the shortage of small group leaders. In my opinion, churches should start small group ministry first and solve the problems arising in the process rather than wait until there are enough small group leaders.
My church is a rural church in a poverty-stricken area and was started not long ago (with a history of only a dozen of years). Giving priority to this ministry, the pastor of my church has invested heavily in small group ministry and incorporated it into daily work years ago. Our shepherd groups originated from a prayer group in homes of believers, which later expanded to several groups. But we can’t find enough qualified leaders among spiritually immature believers to be group leaders, for our church is located in a poor rural area with a history of only a dozen years.
The following is the way we build small group ministry under the pandemic.
First, there are "shepherd groups" and "care groups".
Shepherding groups refer to the groups that organize a small group meeting every week. As my church has only found a few group leaders who could lead and give care, such groups did not cover all the believers. At present, there are more than 300 believers in the church. With only several group leaders who can take on pastoral care, the church establishes ten shepherd groups each with about ten members, only covering a third of all the believers. They attend a weekday meeting once a week, engaging in singing hymns, studying the Bible, sharing testimonies, and intercessory prayers.
Apart from this, we also conduct care groups each with 10-15 people which cover every church member according to the area where they are located. For each group, the church appoints a team leader who learns about members’ health conditions, family life, whether they have attended Sunday services, as well as gives them the church’s notices.
My church has not lost members in the past three because of the pandemic. When the church is in lockdown, care group leaders are required to contact each member at least once every two weeks via WeChat or phone and visit the elderly and seriously ill members from time to time.
Second, we have two types of group leaders: "organizers" and "shepherds".
In order to solve the shortage problem of pastors in "shepherd groups", the church separated organizers from pastors. Group leaders who are not competent for shepherding are only responsible for contacting and caring for the members, as well as organizing gatherings, while pastoral care is undertaken by the pastoral staff of the church. They only need to attend group gatherings on time, thus saving time and providing convenience for them to concentrate on pastoring the believers. To solve the problem of shortage of shepherds, every staff in the church pastoral team is in charge of shepherding two or three small groups, concentrating on pastoral care instead of doing contacting or organizing work. Meanwhile, they can share the same Bible study material in different groups, saving their time in planning new lessons.
Third, the pastoral workers provide Bible study materials for the group leader who undertakes pastoral ministry.
In order to relieve the ministry pressure on group leaders, church pastors can provide complete Bible study materials or designated teaching materials to some shepherding leaders. Those who receive theological education or have a thorough knowledge of the Bible can select appropriate scriptures or materials according to the needs of the group members.
Fourth, flexible and diversified worship modes are adopted.
The content of the group meeting is mainly based on Bible study, supplemented by prayer, Bible reading, singing, worship, and testimonies. For example, if the pastoral staff cannot attend the group meeting due to other church issues, a group leader incapable of pastoral care can change the gathering content, turning Bible study into a special prayer meeting, worship & praise meeting, testimony sharing, or Bible readings.
In fact, the small group ministry of the church was initiated by several volunteers and believers who held a prayer meeting in a believer's family every Monday night. Later, it developed into several prayer groups, and then the current "shepherd group".
Fifth, we gather in both a fixed meeting place and a temporary one.
The meeting place of a small group that I pastor is fixed in a believer‘s home for a long time. However, when a member of this group is unable to come because of illness, I would take other members to the sick member's home for a temporary meeting, and also visit the sick member and pray for them. After every Spring Festival, we would take turns going to the home of each group member for several weeks of gathering there.
The church cannot wait until there is a pastor (small group pastor) who knows enough about pastoral care before starting group ministry. Instead, we should try every means to facilitate the small group ministry, feel our way forward, and gradually expand the small group ministry of the church!
- Translated by Oliver Zuo, Abigail Wu