Planning To Plan

Planning To Plan
By Neal F. McBride

The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. PROVERBS 21:5

Planning requires planning. That’s right! Developing a realistic small-groups ministry demands that you organize and prepare your planning process. Preplanning provides the necessary guidance you need to conduct the actual groups planning process. Investing time and energy in preplanning is vital. Please don’t overlook this foundational, essential step.

Step 1 and step 2 are linked together. In actuality, step 2 is a substep within step 1. But because step 2 deals with such an important issue-authority-it warrants being a separate, distinct step. Most people find it helpful to consider steps 1 and 2 at the same time.

Planning to plan, or preplanning, is aimed at identifying, securing, and coordinating the resources and conditions necessary to do the actual planning needed in putting together a workable small-groups ministry. Starting with resources and conditions, let’s clarify our terms:

RESOURCES are the tangible, available means to accomplish the task. There are three basic categories: people, time, and finances. In other words, the people and “things” you need to get the planning job done. Be realistic. There are limitations to the resources at your disposal; know what they are and stay within bounds.

CONDITIONS are the spiritual, emotional, and experiential circumstances that surround the planning process-the atmosphere and attitudes you must promote that are necessary for successful planning in general and small groups in particular.

IDENTIFYING means to recognize and select the resources needed to accomplish the task and to determine what resources are necessary. Identifying the resources you’ll need is at the heart of the planning process. But remember, be realistic.

SECURING means to obtain the identified, necessary resources and then to guard against the loss or misuse of those resources. When compared with the identification process, acquiring the needed resources is usually more difficult. What you need and what you get may differ, and it usually does. Be prepared to improvise and/or readjust your needs in light of the limitations you’re likely to encounter.

Every situation is different from each other, yet every situation has similarities. Consequently, there are some preplanning areas you need to think about from your unique context and set of circumstances. The following categories represent key issues, resources, and conditions that set the stage for your actual planning process. Feel free to add or subtract issues if you find it necessary.


Who are you? Who you are-your position within the church leadership or hierarchy-is an important consideration. The planning dynamics change depending on whether you’re the pastor; a member of the pastoral staff; an elder (deacon, trustee, overseer, etc.); or a motivated member of the congregation (a layperson). Ideally, these positional distinctions shouldn’t make any difference, but unfortunately they do. So you must know where you stand and act accordingly.

Reality dictates that the more authority-the ability to make final decisions-you have, the more likely and quickly you’ll succeed in effecting change. It’s usually easier, but not always, for pastors to introduce and implement programmatic changes; people expect pastors to suggest new ideas. On the other hand, if you’re a motivated layperson without any recognized leadership role, don’t despair-success is still within your reach. Just be prepared for a longer and a bit more difficult process. This means that before you can even attempt to share (“sell”) the vision for small groups, you must gain a hearing. Doing so may prove easy or difficult, depending on your situation.

If you’re an elected or appointed lay leader in your church, you fit somewhere in between pastors and motivated laypersons. The amount of authority invested in your leadership role places you nearer or farther away from the pastor’s ability to sell, plan, introduce, and implement a small-groups ministry.

What’s the bottom line? Simply know and accept your role and position within your church’s decision making hierarchy. If necessary, be prepared to spend whatever time it takes to enhance your credibility as a groups ministry spokesperson.


You’ll need help in planning. It takes a team. Programs planned by one person are usually less successful than those planned by a collaborative team effort. The old adage “Two (three, four, five, etc.) heads are better than one” is true.’ Consequently, the most important preplanning step is to identify and enlist others to help you plan and implement the groups ministry.

Later in the planning process you’ll need to consider personnel matters related to implementing and running a groups ministry. But right now, it’s crucial for you to invest adequate time in selecting and enlisting the right people to assist you by serving on your planning team.

The Planning Team: Selection

Putting together the planning team (committee, commission, board, task force, etc.) is perhaps the most important thing you’ll do at this point in your small-groups ministry. Guided by the Holy Spirit, pick the members carefully. Experience has proven that the team’s membership is the single most critical factor in assuring a group ministry’s initial success. These people not only set the ministry’s organizational structure, but more importantly, they become the key spokespersons for sharing the vision with other church members.

There is no “right” team size. Nevertheless, the chart below outlines some suggestions for team size based on the number of adults who participate in your church (members and nonmembers). You aren’t obligated to comply with the chart standards. Just remember, the more people involved-within reason-the more individuals you’ll have to plan and support the groups ministry.


Church Size (Average Adult Participants)

* 50 to 150
* 151 to 500
* 501 to 1,000
* 1,001 to 1,500
* 1,501 to 2,000
* 2,000 or more

Team Size (Number of Members)

* 3
* 3 to 5
* 5 to 7
* 7 to 9
* 9 to 11
* 11 to 13

Once you determine how many people you want on the planning team, continue to saturate the selection process with time and prayer. Avoid speeding up or slowing down; only you can determine the correct pace. Pray and ask God to show you which people to approach, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide you to the right individuals. It’s difficult to explain exactly what it means to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance in the selection process; however, listed below are some suggestions that may help you discern God’s will.


1. Develop a prospect list. List people you think might have interest and skills in group ministries. Another good source for potential team members is to ask for suggestions from your pastor and other people you trust. Look for individuals who meet the qualifications for church membership (or leadership if you have no formal membership) and have the time to invest in a groups ministry. Experience with groups is very useful, but not an absolute necessity. “Natural” leadership ability isn’t as important as the person’s willingness to serve and learn.

If you’re not the pastor, on the pastoral team, or a member of your church’s governing board, it’s a good idea to include one or more of these individuals on the planning team. It’s important because such an individual gives you a direct link to the top leadership in your church.

2. Pray over your prospect list. Ask God to give you the opportunity to present the ministry challenge to those persons He wants involved.

3. Develop a brief, general job description that outlines the team’s task and responsibilities. You may tailor the following example to your needs:

JOB DESCRIPTION – Small-Groups Ministry Planning Team


* Serve on the planning team to design and implement a small-groups ministry in our church.


* Contribute the time, energy, and ideas necessary to assist in planning a groups ministry.
* Attend all planning sessions.
* Accept and accomplish specific subtasks related to planning and implementing the groups ministry.
* Help promote the small-groups ministry.
* Pray for wisdom, for yourself and the team as a whole.


* Excited about the vision for small groups in our church.
* A church member (or regular attender).
* Committed to being a team player.
* Ideally, prior experience with group ministries.
* Willing to serve until the groups ministry is implemented.


* A small, but adequate budget.
* Necessary clerical assistance.
* Continuing support for our pastor.
* All expenses paid to attend the Heartlands Small-Groups Conference.

4. Seek the opportunity to have a private conversation with each prospect. Layout the ministry vision and opportunity, review the job description, answer questions, and explain why you are asking the person to participate.

5. Allow the individual enough time to think and pray. Asking for a decision the first time you introduce the person to the ministry isn’t necessary. Follow up in a week or so to get the person’s answer.

6. Avoid twisting arms. Subtle, coercive efforts to get a person to say yes aren’t recommended. In my opinion, if a prospect expresses doubt or a lack of interest, I politely move on. God has someone else in mind.

7. Aim at the ideal team membership size, but adjust upward or downward as necessary. Filling all the proposed slots isn’t as important as finding the right people.

Generally speaking, identifying and offering the ministry opportunity to preselected individuals is far better than making a general announcement asking for volunteers. Jesus called (recruited) specific individuals to serve as apostles. In my opinion, having a small planning team, one that includes individuals committed to a small-groups ministry, is far better than a larger team involving non committed members.

The Planning Team: Organization

The planning team, like all organizations, needs an organizational structure to function smoothly. Start with as few “positions” as possible. Keep it simple. If later you find there’s a need for additional tasks, functions, or jobs, create the necessary organizational position at that point. Stay flexible. Following are some planning suggestions for teams of various sizes. As always, tailor it to your situation and needs.

Planning Teams With Three To Seven Members

* Chair-The team leader; responsible to coordinate all team meetings and activities; represents the team to “higher church authorities.”
* Scribe (secretary/treasurer)-Keeps team minutes and records; oversees the budget.
* Recruiting and Training-Implements the recruiting and training plan devised by the team.

The remaining members assist wherever needed and/or undertake necessary, specific tasks that may arise.

Planning Teams With Eight Or More Members

* Chair-Same as previously described.
* Scribe-Same as previously described.
* Recruiting-Oversees and implements the recruiting plan developed by the team.
* Training-Oversees and implements the training plan formulated by the team.
* Publicity-Oversees and implements the promotion and publicity plan devised by the team.

Note that the recruiting and leadership-training functions are separate responsibilities. The remaining members assist wherever needed and/or undertake necessary, specific tasks that may arise.

Filling the organizational positions on the planning team can take place at several points along the way: (1) as you recruit prospective planning team members-ask specific individuals you think can do the job to serve on the team and accept a specific role; (2) at the team’s first (or second) official meeting; or (3) whenever it’s feasible and convenient. Remember, the reason for the organizational structure is to help the team function well. The system must not force the team into rigid patterns or procedures.

The Planning Team: Operation

Once the team is formed, it’s time to begin operating. Find a convenient date, time, and place (somewhere quiet) to hold your first meeting. Be sure to allow at least two hours. Your initial meetings set the tone for the future, so proceed with prudence.

You’d be wise to call or mail each member a reminder of the meeting date, time, and place-in fact, it’s a good idea to do this each time you meet. Include a copy of the agenda. Here’s an ideal agenda to guide your initial meeting (tailor it to meet your specific needs):

1. Opening prayer.
2. Introductions (if needed).
3. Review the small-groups ministry need and vision for your church.
4. Explain what is involved in planning a groups ministry (briefly explain the twelve steps outlined in this handbook).
5. Discuss team organization and determine who is going to fill the needed positions (you may want to wait until your second meeting).
6. Set a tentative schedule for future meetings.
7. Divide into pairs and pray for your planning team.

For the first six months it’s wise to schedule regular meetings. “How often?” you ask. Frequency depends on your situation. You may start out meeting weekly if you’re on a short time line, or at least twice per month. Regardless of how often you meet, make certain that your subsequent meetings are productive.

Here’s an idea you might find useful at all your meetings. Before adjourning, (1) review any decisions made, (2) summarize what must be done before the next meeting, and (3) clarify who is responsible to accomplish the identified tasks.


During its first two or three meetings, the planning team needs to identify, secure, and coordinate the following preplanning issues that affect how the team operates: planning boundaries, planning goals, a basic strategy, and a decision to proceed.

Planning Boundaries

The sky isn’t the limit in most cases. You have certain limitations, boundaries you must work within as you plan the groups ministry. Every church or Christian organization has its particular methods and ways of functioning. To avoid running afoul of the “system,” the planning team must know its functional boundaries.

The word boundary means different things to different people. I use the word to mean the logical and financial limits you must respect as you plan. Boundaries in this case are not necessarily negative; they’re merely the lines on the playing field. Spending a little time up front to identify your boundaries may save you a lot of headaches later.

Listed below are three basic boundaries you must identify and define, plus an “other” category:

AUTHORITY-Authority is the power to make decisions, a very important consideration. How much authority does the planning team possess? Step 2 (page 23) is designed to assist you in examining this issue in depth.

TIME-How much time do you have to plan? An answer to this rudimentary question has at least two different tracks. First, when to begin the planning process, and second, how much time it will take.

You already may be at the planning stage, or perhaps you’re just beginning to explore the possibility. Getting started requires a decision (see “The Decision to Proceed” on page 18 for this step) on when to start the formal planning process. An answer depends on the dynamics associated with your situation. You may have the ability to decide for yourself and begin. In contrast, your church may require you to go through a detailed process aimed at evaluating the idea and securing the necessary permission to begin. Whatever the case, be sure to identify and comply with this first time boundary.

Your second time boundary is found in the question, How much time does the planning process take? A simple answer is found in another question: How much time do you have? You may find yourself in the situation where your pastor is asking you to put together a small-groups ministry in just a few short months, or even more difficult, within several weeks. Furthermore, time allotted to planning also varies with church size and level of application. A small-groups ministry for a large church takes more time to plan than it does for a groups ministry within one adult Sunday school class.

Most churches find between six months and one year to be adequate to plan a comprehensive small-groups ministry. However, there isn’t a fixed amount of time required to plan. Avoid going too fast or too slow. Keep the planning pace moving, but don’t rush ahead unprepared.

MONEY-What is your budget? Money is an essential ingredient in all ministries, including small groups. You must find out how much money you have to work with.

When you ask your pastor or church treasurer about a budget, don’t be surprised if he or she replies, “How much do you need?” Good question. You may not have a ready answer. After all, at this point you may not know what you need or what you’re planning to do. But don’t despair, you really don’t need a budget to plan. Any planning costs are usually insignificant. However, part of the planning process is to develop a ministry budget (see step 7, page 95). This budgeting process should result in a proposed budget based on what you hope to accomplish. Running the actual groups ministry takes money. A good budget plan, therefore, is required. And keep in mind, the larger the groups ministry, the greater the ongoing costs.

Just a quick word of caution. Even though you don’t really need a budget in order to plan your groups ministry and its associated budget, you’re wise to ask for some general guidelines-financial boundaries-to stay within as you plan. What financial resources do you have at your disposal to support the planning process? Second, is there an approximate target figure you should seek to stay within as you develop your groups ministry budget?

OTHER-Before moving on, ask yourself, “Is there anything else? Are there other boundaries I and the planning team must stay within?” The worksheet at the end of this chapter will help you answer that question.

Planning Goals

If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it. Since hitting nothing isn’t your desire, the first thing the planning team must do is establish their planning goals. Planning goals are what you want to accomplish during and as a result of planning.

A wide variety of goals are possible, depending on your situation. Later, in step 4, you’ll learn more about specific goals and objectives to guide your groups ministry. But at this step all that’s needed is to clarify what you hope to accomplish within the planning process, in the broadest terms. Here are some suggested areas around which you can develop your planning goals, but these represent only a few possibilities:

* Time-When will the planning process be completed? When will each of the twelve steps be completed? When do you plan to start your first group?
* Personnel-What type and how many leaders do you need?
* Recruiting-How many leaders will you recruit and by when?
* Training-What training will you offer and when will it be held?
* Publicity-How much publicity and what type and when?

The Basic Strategy

As you plan to plan it’s helpful to know where you’re headed. So, while it’s not a specific preplanning requirement, here are the major tasks-reflecting the twelve steps presented in this handbook-you must complete as you plan your small-groups ministry:

1. Put together your planning team.
2. Develop your small-groups-ministry plan.
3. Secure approval for the plan and permission to proceed.
4. Recruit and train the initial leaders.
5. Implement the groups ministry.

The Decision To Proceed

Talking, thinking, and praying about small groups and the related planning process is fine, but at some point the actual process must begin. In some situations this transition is simple-you just decide to start and then proceed. In other cases you may have to go through an elaborate process to have the small-groups-ministry idea approved and receive permission to proceed.

The decision to proceed sets the whole planning process into motion. So, whatever it takes to decide to start the planning process, now is the time to secure that decision. What must the planning team do to secure the necessary permission, if needed, to commence planning? If permission is required, what person or group grants this permission? When is this decision made? These questions will be answered as we proceed through this book.

This article “Planning To Plan” by Neal F. McBride is excerpted from his book How To Build A Small Groups Ministry.