Bro. Garry Tracy, tell us a little about yourself and your ministry.
I am a third generation Apostolic Pentecostal, and I was raised in New Brunswick, Canada. I entered ministry full-time as an assistant pastor at the age of 30. I have served as pastor, missionary to Pakistan, regional director for Asia and director of AIM and Education for Global Missions. I became pastor of New Life Pentecostal Church, Bridgeton, Missouri in 1999 and now serve that church as bishop.
What are “small groups” in a church context?
A small group can be any group of people (preferable 3-15) who meet for the purpose of caring for each other, sharing scripture (edification) and implementing the vision of the church.
How do they work in your church?
New Life small groups usually meet in private homes on a weekday evening that best suits them. Most groups have a mixed demographic of people from that geographic area. Typically, each group has a facilitator (lay leader) and an assistant who organizes and leads the meetings.
What happens during a typical small group meeting?
A typical meeting includes the following segments: fellowship, snack, opening prayer, icebreaker, worship, edification, discussion, prayer, vision and benediction.
How long have you been involved in small groups and what has been your experience of their effectiveness?
We launched our small groups 13 years ago. Small groups have positively impacted our church culture. One great benefit is the increased level of care and spiritual support for our church members. Another benefit is that small groups get the church into neighborhoods and offer an easy and convenient entrance for new people into the church family. Small groups have helped our people to be truly friendly to strangers or guests, have provided support and instruction (mostly by close-up example) to those being a disciple and have been greatly useful in developing an expanding team of capable leaders.
Are there any stats (that you are aware of) of what percentage of UPCI churches are currently utilizing small groups?
I don’t know what percentage of UPCI churches have active small groups, but the trend seems to be that progressive, growing, healthy churches have some form of small groups.
What are the benefits a pastor can expect from starting small groups in the local church?
Small groups will lighten the pastoral load (caring for new people and members) as that task is done with consistent involvement of mature saints. There is no more effective way to disciple new people than for them to be walking in close relationship to other Christians. Especially in a large metro area, it is difficult for families with two working parents to attend meetings at the church building during the week. Small groups close by or in their homes are essential for spiritual development.
How successful are small groups for implementing church growth (evangelism)? Discipleship? Leadership development?
Small groups are excellent for evangelism if church leadership promotes that, trains for it and does it intentionally. Successful small group ministry depends on proper training of quality leaders (facilitators) and consistent follow-up reporting and monthly leadership meetings. When this happens, you raise up a growing team of effective leaders that carry out the pastor’s vision. This is Apostolic and powerful.
Where do you typically get your lesson material for the small group meetings?
We use material from many sources. If you limit your group leaders to those who are capable of teaching, you may miss leaders who are gifted in compassion and encouragement. Video is used most of the time, supplemented with books, guest speakers, UPCI material, etc. About twice each year we require groups to use our New Life video series (4-6 lessons) that promotes the pastor’s vision. For non-Apostolic material, we use “Right Now Media” resources. All material used in our small groups must be approved using guidelines established by church leadership. A key factor for effective small groups is keeping the teaching brief (10-15 minutes) followed by questions and interaction that encourages all group members to participate.
What is your opinion of the small group curriculum materials available from PPH?
PPH is now producing good material that we are using more as we move forward. We welcome this trend.
Where can a pastor go to get help in starting small groups – books, videos, etc.? What do YOU recommend?
The pastoral staff of New Life was trained at Parkway Apostolic Church, Pastor Anthony Tamel in Oak Creek, Wisconsin www.theoakcreekchurch.com. The next year we took a team of small group leaders there for training before launching small groups at our church. Proper training and follow up is the key to successful small groups.
Other resources which can be used are A Look at Revelation by James Stewart & Stanley Scism, The Missing Half of the Church by Chester M Wright, More Than Numbers by Dr. Paul Y Cho, 8 Habits Of Effective Small Group Leaders by Dave Earley, and Where Do We Go From Here? by Ralph W Neighbour Jr.
If someone has questions, do you mind them contacting you?
It is our desire to help anyone we can. My contact information is Garry Tracy, office 314-291-4181. Email firstname.lastname@example.org