by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/24/15.
A sub-congregation is a group within the church, that functions, in Asbury Professor George Hunter’s words, as “a church within a church.” (For a definition of a sub-congregation, click HERE)
A student once responded, “I couldn’t help but wonder if the sub-congregation is more of a large church concept. I agree with you that many of the things I listed are more like small groups. And I believe that eventually dividing for growth will eventually come into play.”
I replied that I have noted in some of my other wiki- postings (CLICK HERE), that sub-congregations form as a natural “organizational behavior” and that we must recognize them if we are to “manage” their behavior. Thus, I think many students have found it helpful to look at their emerging sub-congregations (which are currently of small group size) so they can manage them into growth and eventually a full-fledged (and larger) sub-congregation.
The idea of sub-congregations is found in church organizational writers such as in my books (2000:25-30; 2007:50-71) as well as:
- Eddie Gibbs (I Believe in Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981: 276-280),
- Pete Wagner (Your Church Can Grow, Oregon, Resource Pub., 2001:101-102 ),
- Larry Richards (A New Face for the Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan 1970: 34-35)
- George G. Hunter (The Contagious Congregation [Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press] 1979:63) of which Hunter said that every congregation is a really “a congregation of congregations” (p. 63).
Many non-consultant leadership writers are largely unaware to this because they are students of leadership but not necessarily of organizational behavior. Most management scholars believe that you must first understand an organization’s “behavior” before you try to manage it. Thus, while working on my Ph.D. at Fuller I had Kent Miller of Michigan State as a professor (he is a Professor of Strategic Management there). Dr. Miller stressed that church leaders often fail at leadership because they don’t first analyze and understand the organizational behavior they are trying to manage. All that is to say is that the writings on this are not massive (but they should be).
The student also wrote, “But I also notice that the sub-congregations that I do have (boomer’s and GenX) seem to be moving together well – at what point do you beginning looking at their inherent differences and start strategizing for it?’”
I attempted to addressed this in a wiki- posting “SUB-CONGREGATIONS & How To Use Them to Grow a Small Church in Just 6-Steps” Take a look at that posting. Also, here is a quick synopsis:
1) Locate emerging sub-congregational cultures in the community.
2) Mentor an indigenous leader from the culture you identified in Step 1 who will bring together a small group for Biblical discipleship of this indigenous culture.
3) Get the existing small group to plant another group like themselves. Don’t try to force them to divide. Rather, encourage them to reach more people by starting another group like themselves at another time or place. This is called “seeding” a new small group, where a couple leaders and a few people volunteer to start this new small group.
4) Cluster or network your small groups at least once a quarter. By this I mean get your small groups from the same emerging sub-congregation together at least once every three months for unity building.
5) Create more small groups as new ones approach 12 in attendance. Use the small group “seeding” strategy of Step 3 above. And, use Step 4 to keep these new small groups “clustering” once a quarter with other small groups of their cultural sub-congregation.
6) Once you have a total of 50 people in your small group network, or cluster, create a new and regular worship encounter for them. This then becomes the new worship encounter for this emerging sub-congregation. (Notice that like John Wesley, small groups [class meetings] are created before big worship gatherings [society meetings].)
I am usually stretching students with ostensibly non-traditional strategies, but the typical strategies (making everyone melt into an indistinct grey-green cultural goo) is not working. And, the strategy I outlined above is working in churches that are growing amid disinterested and unfriendly cultures, such as St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England (http://www.sttoms.net ).