Square One: Starting a Small Group

By Teena Stewart

Teena Stewart is married to an ordained minister and is a published author, ministry consultant and coach. She works in collaboration with DreamBuilders Ministry in Motion (ministryinmotion.net/), an organization that equips church leaders. Click here to order her new book, Successful Small Groups from Concept to Practice (Beacon Hill) or on her small groups page (www.inistryinmotion.net/group_bibles_studies.html.) The Stewarts are in the process of starting a coffee shop ministry in North Carolina. (www.javajourney.org/)

My husband Jeff and I just recently left behind church ministry positions in California to relocate to North Carolina. Our plan–to start a coffee shop ministry. One of our goals is to reach unchurched people for Christ. A small group community will, we hope, be a key feature of this coffee shop fellowship.

I’m already growing impatient as we put preliminary pieces in place to make this dream happen. But, as is often the case, we need to walk before we can run. We met with Dennis and Jeannie, our two key leaders out here in NC and talked about the direction to take. After batting around ideas, we all agreed that rather than wait until the coffee shop opens to start our ministry, we should move ahead and use a small group venue and meet in homes. (Only we can’t meet in our home since we don’t have one yet.)

Our next challenge, deciding who to invite to the group. We’re relying primarily on Dennis and Jeannie since they know people in the area. And we’ve got more of a challenge since we are starting a small group without already being part of a church. Dennis and Jeannie brainstormed potential group member contacts. But their spiritual standing was very diverse. One couple was notorious for church hopping and never seemed satisfied with whatever fellowship they chose to join. Another couple who came to mind fell into the seeker and possible new age category since the husband seemed open to spiritual discussion but the wife, who was from another country, had some peculiar beliefs. Then there was the potential couple we’d been told about by a friend who said they were unchurched.

Would inviting this odd mix of characters really gel into a small group? Though we want to reach the unchurched, we feel it is important to carefully consider who we inviteto the group because it will dictate the personality of the group andperhaps even its health.

What advice would you give to us as we launch this new group? What lessons have you learned? What precautions would you take? Click on “comments” below and let us know what you think!


4 Responses

  1. Teena,
    I’m curious. Would some groups thrive with this kind of diversity? Would it vary with age cohort and world view? Is it harder to develop a sense of community with such different backgrounds?
    Our prayers are with you in this new adventure!

  2. Those are great observations.

    Diversity can be a mixed bag. It can make small groups exciting because things rarely are dull but it can also introduce conflict. Or, if some are mature Christians and some are seekers, there can be a wide gap between the two.

    You don’t want to sacrifice one couple or individual to cater to another. But you can use the more seasoned Christians to act as mentors. One of the keys is to make sure the more seasoned group members are warned in advance about the types of members you may be inviting.

    Prepare them for coaching these newer members. More importantly group leaders and seasoned members should avoid using “christianese” language, words found primarily in the church setting that a seeker or non-christmas not understand at all.


  3. Teena,
    This sounds like an amazing undertaking. I bless you as you work out the kinks. I don’t know a lot about seeker groups, but do you know about Mary Schaller and her Seeker Ministries? She’s working with Garry Poole (Seeker Small Groups) in developing about 150 seeker groups in the SF Bay area. Garry’s books are excellent resources, and their website often has case studies and tips. Find them at http://seekerministries.typepad.com/.
    If you decide to start a group with the divergent group you described, you’ll need my book (Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging Group Members), website, and blog (www/whydidntyouwarnme.com). I’ll look forward to hearing the continuing saga of your adventure. Blessings!

  4. Pat,

    Thanks for sharing your insight. What a great resource. We’ll definitely check it out.


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