I asked Ron if he’d be willing to answer some questions about small groups and church planting. I was thrilled when he gave me an affirmative response. Check out his insights. If you’re planting a church or are early on in the process, you’ll want to pay close attention as Ron unearths some astoundingly important insights.
Rick: Ron, I've talked with some small group pastors who are seriously considering planting a church. I'd like to ask you a few questions about that.
What area of ministry were you doing prior to becoming a church planter?
Ron: I was a Sunday school teacher, Sunday school director and deacon of a large Baptist church before entering ministry. Immediately after I surrendered to ministry I was called into church revitalization. It was studying how to do that that I "stumbled" into church planting.
Rick: How did you know that you were called to plant a church?
Ron: It was really like the frog in the kettle starting to boil gradually. I was in it before I realized that's what God was calling me to do with my life. Even now that I'm back in an older established church, I'm working with church planters, considering ways we can be involved in church planting. I think many times the activity of God is around us and we can't see clearly at the time. As we walk with Him daily, He reveals as much as we need to know for the next step.
Rick: I talk often with small group pastors who lead me to believe that the primary reason they want to plant a church is because they sense they could be a better senior pastor than the one they are presently serving alongside. What would you say to the small group pastor who is living in this awkward space?
Ron: Well, as a senior pastor, I can say it looks different from where I sit than from other seats in the church. Until you wear the hat of senior leader you really won't understand all the pressures that come with the role. I'm sure our staff often thinks the same of me at times. A senior leader has to think not only about the small groups role, but the youth role, the administrative role, the community and missions role, the church growth, worship, and vision casting roles. There are so many hats a senior leader wears. That said, I wouldn't go into church planting with only this as a motivation, but a desire to lead better certainly can be a part of it. I'd ask bigger questions though...like am I willing to lead lonely at times. Am I willing to risk everything? Am I willing to walk solely by faith and know others are depending on me to follow Christ closely enough that they can follow me? Church planting is hard on the best days and shouldn't be entered lightly, but if you're being called to it...it's a great life.
Rick: When you planted your church, what was your vision for small groups in the church you were planting?
Ron: I saw small groups as the lifeblood of the church. Sunday mornings are a door many times, and corporate worship is very important. But to keep people connected, to engage them in true discipleship, requires smaller venues of community. To connect people to the church, and keep them connected, we need small groups and service opportunities.
Rick: Was that vision realistic or did you find out that what you had envisioned was too difficult to accomplish when starting a church from the ground up? Please explain?
Ron: Well, it was realistic, but it didn't happen overnight. We were intentional though. We launched every new initiative small. So, for the first 6 months, only future leaders were in small group together. Once we had "practiced" together, we felt ready to launch bigger. We never looked back.
Rick: Concerning the small group ministry in your church plant, what would you have done differently?
Ron: Not a lot. I think we were very intentional with it and it worked well. We might consider doing leader training groups longer. Seems we never had enough leaders. Also, initially we had all groups break at 12 to 18 months. I'm not sure I'd be as adamant about that next time. Sometimes there are benefits to a group staying together longer term.
Rick: If you were consulting a church planter, what words of wisdom would you give that church planter concerning starting a small group ministry?
Ron: Bring Rick Howerton in before you start! Seriously, Rick, you were a great paradigm shaper in our early days...pre-launch. But, I also think I'd advise them to learn all they can from as many sources before launch. I don't know that we were as "up-to-date" on all the best practices out there. There are so many options. Learn from everyone, but then adapt a system that works best with your church's DNA. Don't believe you have to copycat some other church.
Rick: I'm sure I left out something vital, what question do you wish I would have asked you and what would your answer be to that question?
Ron: What do you do when groups aren't working?
You try something else. Many people in our early days fell in love with groups by their second try. We encouraged the free look. Try it...and if it doesn't work...don't give up...try it again. We found it was necessary to give people freedom to explore within different groups until they fell in love with group life. Once they did, they would make any group work.