Christianity Today has a legacy of equipping the local church, and often that's through the daily, consistent labor of training church leaders. CT's SmallGroups.com is one example, and its impact is immeasurable. In small church plants and large multisite churches alike, SmallGroups.com is used as a go-to resource by small-group pastors and directors as they train their church's leaders and prepare for their weekly groups.
Nick Lenzi, the community director at Hoboken Grace Community Church, finds SmallGroups.com an invaluable resource. He moved to the Hoboken, New Jersey area after studying finance to pursue a career in business, and Nick never studied Christian ministry; therefore, when he initially became involved with his church's small-group ministry he felt ill-equipped to lead.
"When you're a church planter, especially someone like me who doesn't have any seminary experience, you're looking for as many resources as possible," Nick said. "And one of the things that's so nice about SmallGroups.com is that it has a collection of all these incredible tools from people who've been doing this ministry for a long time."
Carolyn Taketa, a small groups pastor at Calvary Community Church, seconds Nick's experiences. Though Carolyn's been doing small-groups ministry for 13 years and is an expert in the field herself, she was one of the early readers of SmallGroups.com (and now a contributor). She found herself hungry for every new resource available because she saw deficits in her own experiences and understandings.
Carolyn recalls her early days as a small-group pastor: "I came into small group ministry as a lawyer, so I had an analytical mind. I had experience leading groups, but I never even considered vocational ministry, which is why I started reading everything I could get my hands on, including SmallGroups.com. SmallGroups.com is the best thing out there because it has such a broad range of resources."
Ultimately, the sheer breadth and depth of SmallGroups.com's resources are able to help meet needs of a multitude of churches, regardless of whether the small-group pastor has prior ministry experience. As Carolyn noted, "Whether you're a new church of 50 and you're getting small groups going or you're a large church figuring out training for 200 leaders, SmallGroups.com suits all those needs. And over time, the online library has become more extensive and specialized. You can find those niches. Amy Jackson is so well-versed that she speaks to all the different components."
Amy Jackson, an associate publisher with Christianity Today who has been at the helm of SmallGroups.com for over six years, certainly can be credited with much of its success. Amy came to SmallGroups.com as a small-group pastor, and while she took up the mantle of editorial work, she never fully left the small-group world. When asked about her favorite part of working with SmallGroups.com, Amy is drawn back to this audience: "I absolutely love serving small-group pastors and directors. I have served in the role, and I know how difficult and challenging it can be—and how easy it is to feel alone. I love creating resources that serve them well, encourage them, and help them do their job more easily."
Since taking up her role at CT, she's still been deeply involved in her church's small group ministry, and she's well connected with the broader small-group network of writers and influencers. Much of the content on SmallGroups.com grows out of Amy's desire to meet genuine needs, needs that she knows and understands because she's seen and experienced them firsthand.
As Amy contributes her own content and brings in outside voices, readers like Nick appreciate her insight and the way she continues to lead SmallGroups.com, along with CT's WomenLeaders.com, with vision and intention: "Amy and Carolyn Taketa teach me what it's like to be a woman in ministry. They teach me how the words I communicate or my actions are being conveyed. They also bring reality to certain situations, even though we like to act like everything is perfect and clean. But they bring a little bit of grit to it, and I love that."
Part of equipping church leaders is presenting them with an honest portrayal of the unique challenges they will be facing, and SmallGroups.com does not shy away from that. In fact, in a weekly newsletter sent to help equip and encourage small-group pastors, Amy grapples with the most sensitive topics these point-people will undoubtedly face, ranging from how small groups can address the same-sex marriage ruling to how your group might be failing. Some weeks are meant for praise and inspiration, but there's no shortage of pointed exhortation in SmallGroups.com content.
While there may be heavy topics at hand, there are also exciting things on the horizon for SmallGroups.com. One notable addition in 2017 is the new small-group leader training program, video sessions meant to help small-group pastors train up new leaders. And for those like Nick whose role at the church is split between small-groups pastor and financial adviser, this training relieves the pressure from those hectic fall retreats and allows him to focus on relationships instead of developing a new curriculum.
This entire idea was conceived and customized for the small-group director. As Amy said, "There is some other training available for group leaders, but nothing that's built for the pastor to help them train in a way that makes the most sense for their context. In essence, we give them the tools to empower them to train in the best way for their leaders. The whole program was built with them in mind."
As for what's coming in the next year? Amy is optimistic for SmallGroups.com continued success as she continues to do what she does best: meet the needs of small-group pastors. "I'm really excited about thinking through some new formats for training small-group point people. I've heard from many of them in the past about how downloadable resources are incredibly helpful, but they're also looking for some new formats that we're going to start testing out this coming year."
And as for the SmallGroups.com community at large, it seems that's looking pretty hopeful as well. As Carolyn said, SmallGroups.com has hit their stride. They've found a niche and are making a home there—and meeting all kinds of needs along the way. "SmallGroups.com comes alongside local pastors and small-group directors and equips and encourages them," she said. "There are vendors, and then there are partners in ministry, and Amy and SmallGroups.com are partners in ministry." At the end of the day, there's nothing better the ministry could continue to work toward in the coming year.
Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor at Christianity Today.