By Michael Kelley
Let me confess from the outset – I’m not an avid hunter. Despite living in a part of the country where ducks, doves, and deer regularly fall prey to camo clad guys, I’m content most Saturdays to be at home watching the game of the week on ESPN.
But despite my lack of hunting expertise, I know enough to know the difference between a rifle and a shotgun. And because I know the difference, I also know that if I were to take up the sport of hunting, I’d have a lot better luck doing so with a shotgun in my hands.
That’s because I’m not a great shot, and with a shotgun, you don’t usually have to be. When you pull the trigger on a shotgun, the shot sprays out in a pattern. Far from hitting the bulls eye, you only have to be reasonably close to the target in question and it will at least get nicked. But if you’re hunting with a rifle, you have one chance with one bullet to put it exactly where it needs to go.
As pastors, we have the choice about which of these philosophies we want to employ in our churches, and just as with hunting, there is a time and occasion for both.
The Rifle Approach
We live in a day and time when our people are constantly bombarded with messages about everything—from what shoes to wear to foreign affairs. We are informationally saturated, so much so that many of us have simply tuned ourselves out to the constant stream of facts, figures, and opinions.
In such a culture, we would be wise to recognize that a message can have a greater impact if it’s not only heard on one occasion, but then reinforced on a different occasion except this time personalized and internally processed at a deeper level. This is what sermon-aligned small groups enable a church to do.
Like shooting with a rifle, they allow for a greater degree of accuracy because of their focus. People can hear a text preached in a worship service and then study the same text in their groups, but this time, be active participants in the discussion as they share their own thoughts, struggles, and needs as they relate to that text.
Ready to shoot from a rifle? Here are three steps to making it happen:
1. Test the approach.
If this kind of approach is new to your church, then it would be wise to test it before rolling out a new philosophy to a congregation. To do so, find a small number of trusted group leaders who you know will give you honest feedback. Ask them to test this philosophy in their groups for a limited amount of time, and then provide the means for them to tell you what they think.
Be sure and be specific in all aspects of this time; don’t tell them this will go on “for a while”; tell them how long. Don’t just ask them what they think; ask them about specific group dynamics.
2. Choose a seasonally appropriate time.
Once you’ve gotten your feedback, you can ask all the groups to adopt this philosophy, but maybe only for a single sermon series. Again, let them know that there is a definite ending point to this and the reason why now is the right time to shoot with the rifle.
It may be that you find you only need to shoot with a rifle for six weeks out of the church year, but it might be that this paves the way for an entirely new approach to your groups.
3. Provide quality content for your groups.
The problem with having this approach is the great degree of time it takes to prepare these small group studies at a level you are comfortable with. It’s a huge time investment for a pastor or another staff member to not only think through the sermon for the weekend, but then invest the energy it takes to develop a quality Bible study for their groups that fits alongside it.
There is, however, a tool that might help you.
Smallgroup.com is a web-based tool for creating and distributing custom Bible studies in minutes. Our team has built a customizable library of more than 1,000 studies (with up to 50 more added each week) from all 66 books of the Bible and on more than 200 topics. Simply search for your text or topic, choose a study that’s on target, and then quickly customize it as needed for your groups. The result is a custom study, written by a team of seminary-trained Bible study experts, that fits your groups perfectly.
If your interest is peaked, you can head to smallgroup.com right now. The site is currently in an open beta test, and you are invited to try it free for two weeks. This a chance for you to test the site for two weeks and see how smallgroup.com can help you deliver custom Bible studies to your groups at a fraction of the time it would ordinarily take you.
This week, you have a limited amount of your people’s focus. Maybe it’s time to take a rifle approach.