June 22, 2012
Why you need to look at your church's culture before implementing what works for other churches
I recently finished reading Heather Zempel's new book, Community is Messy. It's not out until September (I'll review it in more depth then), but I want to share an insight with you. Heather, a contributor for SmallGroups.com, writes about the importance of understanding the culture, rhythm, and demographics of your church when planning for small-group ministry. Ministering at National Community Church in D.C., she realized that the natural rhythm of life is a trimester system—students and politicians alike follow a schedule that divides fall, spring, and summer. Additionally, she observed their churchgoers are young—many in their 20s and 30s—and looking for clear ways to grow in their relationship with God. And the demographic is fairly transient, with very few people staying for more than a few years.
With these things in mind, she and her team came up with a plan for small-group ministry that fits their church. NCC runs small groups on a trimester schedule, offers several discipleship-heavy groups (e.g., Theology 101, Old Testament Survey), and allows several "black market" groups to exist so that people can try out creative ideas—even if they don't fit the church's structure.
Heather is the first to admit that she's still learning and trying new things, and she fully expects to change their system in the years to come. But I think she's done something that we often forget when we're planning for small-group ministry: she first looked at her church culture when planning. It's too easy to read a book from "Big Community Church," get excited about their success, and try to implement those ideas into our own ministries without adjusting them to fit our church culture. It's too tempting to apply their exact methods instead of simply the principles.
I would guess that we don't look at our church culture first because it's hard work. It's difficult to have an objective eye as we look at our churches, researching the rhythms, culture, and needs. It's difficult to look at our own structures and ministries with a (constructively) critical eye.
I would urge you to take Heather's advice: look first at your own church. Only then should you research ideas for ministry that fit your context.
For more from Heather Zempel, click here.
posted by Amy Jackson on June 22, 2012 10:03 AM