Avoiding the Detours

I love to travel. It is interesting and exciting to visit new places and discover new things. Part of the adventure involves meeting new people along the way that enrich our lives. This is not unlike the small group experience…new discoveries, new experiences and new relationships.

One of the disappointments of travel, however, can be a detour that interrupts our progress. If we come upon too much road construction and too many detours along the way, we may soon get distracted and lose our momentum or joy of the journey. Are there detours that threaten to thwart our small group journey? Author and small group ministry expert, Rick Howerton, says “yes.” Check out these detours to avoid as I share my take on them here.

DETOUR #1 Primary principles and practices of small-group life are not established.

Getting it right form the beginning is extremely important in small group ministry. The philosophy of small group ministry is creating community; making disciples as our lives merge around the truth of God’s Word and the power of His Spirit. Always remember that the success of small group ministry as a whole is dependent upon your understanding and commitment to the process of building relationships and doing life together. It isn’t about getting through a lesson as much as it is about spending time together sharing our hearts and our lives…encouraging one another, praying for one another, being there for one another.

DETOUR #2 The leader is unable to separate from former concepts of group Bible study and completely embrace small-group life.

Howerton quotes a small-group leader, “I want to be a great small-group leader but I keep finding myself teaching a Sunday school class at my house on Tuesday night.” If we are not careful, those of us who are well versed in the traditional teaching scenarios will easily slip into that mode of operation in our small groups. There is certainly a place for teaching, but the small-group setting is not that place. It is more about iron sharpening iron, than about gaining biblical knowledge (Proverbs 27:17).

DETOUR #3 The church expects results too quickly from the small-group ministry.

In a culture that is obsessed with the instant gratification of all of our desires, we have become conditioned to think that spiritual growth and discipleship making is instantaneous as well. The truth is, it takes time–a lifetime–to make a disciple. The small-group ministry is a long-haul process that will not produce instant results, but will produce LASTING results as we see God work in amazing ways…iron sharpening iron.

DETOUR #4 The church believes curriculum is the key to life-changing small groups.

Is discipleship based primarily on proposition or relationships? Think about it for a minute…when Jesus was on earth making disciples (in His “small group“), He taught them (proposition), but He spent more time in relationship with them. Curriculum is important, but in the small-group process, it is relating to one another around the truth of God’s Word and experiencing the power and presence of God together that is of the utmost importance. That is where true life-change takes place. Curriculum is a tool in the small-group toolkit. When used effectively, it will be a conversation starter that encourages each person to share his or her story and listen to the stories of others.

DETOUR #5 The ministry is based on an organizational rather than an organic approach.

Organization is essential for anything to be successful. However, for the small group ministry, we see it as an organism, not an organization. Rick Howerton refers to “The Open Door Website” as he defines the term “organism.” Consider these seven characteristics of an organism as you think about your small group:

1. Feeding – All living organisms need substances from their environment to obtain energy, grow, and stay healthy.

2. Movement – All living organisms show movement of one kind or another (internal and external).

3. Breathing or Respiration – All living things exchange gases with their environment.

4. Excretion – Excretion is the removal of waste from the body. If this waste was allowed to remain in the body, it could be poisonous. All living things need to eliminate waste from their bodies.

5. Growth – When living things feed, they gain energy. Some of this energy is used in growth. Living things become larger and more complicated as they grow.

6. Sensitivity – Living things react to changes around them, such as touch, light, heat, cold, and sound.

7. Reproduction – All living things produce young.

Take a moment to consider the implications of these characteristics from a spiritual growth perspective. How does, or will, your group exhibit these characteristics spiritually? What will it take for you, as the leader, to develop them in your group?


These are many of the detours that will threaten your small-group journey. Will you avoid them? With the right planning and the right approach, we can. When we manage to maneuver around these detours, our journey will be a joyful and growing experience for everyone. Happy motoring!


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