Realistic, Flexible Goals for 2021

By Joel Comiskey, free teaching videos on leading small groups  

“We are not in Kansas anymore,” a startled Dorothy said in the famous movie The Wizard of Oz. A tornado had turned Dorothy’s world upside down, and she had to learn to walk in an entirely different landscape.

Covid-19 has brought on a different world order that requires a new set of rules. In the past, it was quite easy to set goals for small group based churches. The normal goal was, How many new disciples were ready to lead life-giving small groups? This number was based on those graduating from the church-wide equipping. Of course, the pastoral team had to take into account the health of each small group. Churchwide coaching of the leaders was also a critical factor when determining the goal.

But we’re not in Kansas anymore. Churches are coming out of a dark night of the soul and it’s not clear when things will return to normal. And sadly, some churches won’t make it out of the pandemic winter. According to George Barna’s agency, 20% of North American churches (1 in 5) will permanently close their doors due to Covid-19.

Small group based churches, however, have a distinct advantage. They have learned how to decentralize and are less dependent on one pastor and church buildings. Rather, the pastoral load is distributed among small group leaders who are meeting off-campus.

Yet, small group churches still face the dilemma about when to go from online small groups to face-to-face ones. In my own local church, all of the groups are still online. We have not made clear-cut goals about returning to face-to-face groups due to the restrictions in Los Angeles, California. So apart from the question of online groups versus face-to-face ones, what are some other key goals?

This pandemic has stirred many churches to transition their traditional program-based church to the small group strategy. If you’re one of them, I would encourage you to take the rest of the year to plan your transition.

Talk with your board and key leaders. Your goal for 2021 would be to start the first pilot group. I always encourage the lead pastor to facilitate the first pilot group. Who should attend? Willing, key leaders who are willing to start their own small group. You might need some coaching to make this reality and we at JCG are here to help.

If you are a small group based church, it’s important to look ahead and envision the future. I talked to one pastor who has 8 active groups. His goal was to start 2 more in 2021, as well as to activate the church-wide equipping track to prepare future small group facilitators.

Or maybe you need to back-up and “rebuild the walls.” One pastor recently said to me, “Joel, my goal for 2021 is to teach my people biblical values. My people have become jaded with political opinions, and many have lost sight of their biblical moorings. I encouraged him to also include the goal of a new vision for prayer. I pointed out Acts 6:3-4, where the apostles said, “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

For the month of February, we will write twenty blogs on the topic of realistic, flexible goals for 2021. Seasoned pastors and leaders will blog on this topic. If you’d like to receive this blog in your email, please click here. We will cover:

  • February 07-13: Prayerful consideration of the future. God does want us to dream. We are not to worry about our plans (Matthew 6:34), but God wants us to plan (Proverbs 21:5).
  • February 14-20: Prayer and the ministry of the Word in 2021. The church needs to know that Jesus is the head of the church and that he has a plan to strengthen his church. Cell churches should be better equipped to face difficulties and struggles.
  • February 21-27: Specific goals and dreams for 2021. Cell church goals include things like fine-tuning coaching, equipping, statistics, and personal spirituality. The main goal is to make disciples but there are various goals. 
  • February 28 to March 06: Flexibility. I think of a person driving in the fog. While the fog is there, the drive needs to go slower. But when it lifts, the driver can go full speed ahead. We need to be moving forward in 2021 without speeding. God will lift the fog in his time. Let’s be ready.