1. When should I branch?
As a general rule, healthy things grow and produce fruit. As we make disciples, new growth and branching are a natural part of the life of a small group. There is no exact time to branch but often great opportunities. Each group has different seasons where keeping a group intact is very healthy. The decision to branch should be prayed through and discussed with your coach. There are many variables to be discussed before this decision is made.
2. Decision time
As the group leader, it is important to discuss with your coach and apprentice what kind of branch is best for your group. There are several models that have been successful.
MODEL 1: Missionary Team – This model happens when an apprentice/prepare leader is willing to step out of the current group with a small team of people, usually a host home and 3-6 people. They are sent out as ‘missionaries’ into the community.
MODEL 2: Cell Division – This model is an intentional division of the group which requires the apprentice to be raised up into the position of a co-leader. From there the group decides who they are going to go with. Sometimes names are drawn out of a hat, or people pray and go with one leader or the other. This is a very effective way to branch if done properly.
MODEL 3: Leader Leaves – This model is when the current leader essentially leaves the group in the hands of the apprentice he has prepared, and then goes off to start a new group. This model is sometimes a little easier for the group, if the leader does a good job of giving away responsibility and authority to the apprentice. The group will then see the apprentice as the new leader.
3. Identify the branch team
Once your team decides which model of branch you are going to use, it is important to establish trusting relationships with the new team. It takes time for the new team to bond and begin to sense God’s direction requiring clear vision and purpose for the group.
HOST HOME: This role is especially important to every new group. There may be several weeks when groups lack a committed core of people as they launch. It is important to have the host home help form your core. With a solid host home in place, new people will fill more comfortable coming into an existing group.
FUTURE APPRENTICE: Pray about and try to identify someone to join you in the branch as your apprentice. This is the person you will train up as the next leader. Potential future leaders don’t always surface quickly so it is okay if you don’t yet know who this will be.
OTHER GROUP MEMBERS: Obviously there will be neighbors or friends to invite to the group. It is important to build a list of people to invite and start praying as a group for God to bring those He wants to come. A great idea is to place an empty chair in the room as a visual reminder to pray and look for someone new to fill it.
4. Communicate with the Group
VISION: This needs to be thought through carefully. Your group should already identify with your apprentice and understand that branching is part of group life. As you bring your group up to speed on your branching plan, explain to them the model of branching you have chosen and your proposed timing of the branch. You are not looking for total consensus, just understanding and buy-in to the idea. Give your group time to pray about it and process their feelings. It may take a few meetings to lead the group to the point of embracing change. Remind your group that relationships don’t have to end with change.
BUY-IN: This process is very delicate and needs to be bathed in prayer! When we talk about buy-in, we are trying to measure a level of commitment to the decision. Some people are very slow to buy-in to change. Some are on it right away. This is because of various life perspectives and circumstances. We all carry baggage, so be patient with everyone and allow them time to process the decisions you are making. Some people drag their feet all through their life, so you may need to move on without total consensus. That is part of leadership.
FOLLOW UP: Finding out how people are doing through this transition is important. Communication at this juncture is usually best done one-on-one with a lot of questions. You want to understand where people are with the decisions being made. Often people are not honest with what they think or how they feel until they have been given time to process. These conversations are worth the investment. Take time before and after group with individuals to see how they are doing or if they have thoughts about the branch they need to process. If they feel uncomfortable with the decisions, ask why and which parts makes them uncomfortable.
VALUE: Now is the time to reassure everyone in the group that branching is part of the design and vision of God’s church. Multiplication brings some discomfort and even pain; it is natural to feel that way. Be sure to communicate this with the group as a whole. Value people’s feelings and acknowledge their discomfort. Don’t tell them to ‘get over it’ or to not feel that way. Just encourage, encourage, encourage...literally try to put courage in your group members.
VISION: When most people understand the ‘why’ behind something, they tend to move more quickly. Remind your group that part of being in community and on mission means that we are apprehending new people for the Kingdom of God. These people need to be connected into biblical community to grow and experience the same thing that the existing group has experienced. Small group life is very dynamic in nature. Embracing group branching requires a kingdom perspective that is focused on others.
5. Set a branch date
The date you decide to branch needs to be communicated 4-5 weeks prior to the actual date. This will help people emotionally prepare and allow new host homes time to prepare.
SCHEDULING YOUR BRANCH: “Think backwards.” Pick the date you are going to branch your group and then go backwards to set your schedule.
6. Prepare your heart
PRAY: It is crucial for God to lead through the transition. As we connect regularly to the Lord, we gain His wisdom and heart for people. We need both of these things as we lead people through change.
7. Solidify future relationships
COACH: The weeks surrounding a group branch may take more relational touch and require more phone calls to members. The relationships between group leaders and coaches have to be established with scheduled meeting times. This could be face-to-face meetings (preferable) or phone calls to talk and pray together.
SEND OFF: Have a set time to do a ‘send-off’. This is essential for everyone to know that you have a definite stop or major change in the makeup of the current group and start of the new group. A group meeting with food and prayer is a great way to send off a new group. Gather everyone who is going out and pray over them and for the new group.
9. Celebrate the Branch
PARTY: Plan to get together with everyone in both the original group and those involved in the branch for a party and to talk about what God has been doing. Plan this 4-6 weeks after the branch. Share a meal and celebrate together. Praise God for His faithfulness.