I’m a big fan of circles.
I’ve just seen, over and over again, that people who invest in a small group experience growth.
There is something powerful that happens when a handful of Jesus followers journey together for a season.
So, as we talk about how to breathe life into your small group ministry, this isn’t about numbers.
It’s not about percentages.
This is about discipleship and transformation.
Our people need to be in a group.
It’s an essential component of spiritual growth.
So, how do we get more people into groups?
1. Church-Wide Initiatives
It’s about momentum.
When people in your church get the sense that something is happening that everyone is part of, the results can be powerful.
One of the best ways to encourage greater participation in small groups is to put together an initiative that’s not just for the small group ministry...not just for women’s ministry...not just for kid’s ministry...but rather, “This is something we are all doing and we need you to jump in!”
Church-wide initiatives are exciting and create movement.
For us, this often looks like the entire church rallying around a fall sermon series.
This year, we are preaching on the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul in a series we are calling "Strength for the Journey".
All of our ministries, including small groups, will revolve around this series for a season.
We also use this opportunity to challenge people who are not in groups.
We often say,
“If you’re not in a group, you’re missing a huge part of this series!”
A church-wide initiative, whether it is a sermon series, a discipleship experience, a financial class, or whatever, can be a great opportunity to promote and leverage small groups.
2. Leadership Modeling
As a parent, I’ve learned that my kids are far more likely to do what I do than do what I say.
If I’m trying to enforce screen time boundaries with my words but model hours and hours of screen time every day...we all know what is actually going to happen.
The same applies to leadership in our churches.
If you want people in small groups but your leaders aren’t in small groups and don’t constantly talk about the impact of group life in their lives, good luck convincing your people to join a group.
There are two action points here: Are your key staff and volunteers doing what you’re asking everyone else to do?
If not, there is an inconsistency and possibly even an integrity issue.
Secondly, talking about groups and the impact of groups from the stage on a regular basis is one of the most important ways to promote the value of small groups in your church.
I’m not talking about announcements asking people to join groups.
I’m talking about your worship leaders and pastors talking about their experiences with groups from the stage.
If you want a vibrant small group ministry, you have to model its value.
3. Easy On-Ramps
When I was learning to drive, one of the most intimidating aspects of driving was getting from a normal road onto the highway.
Speeding up to 70 mph and merging into traffic was terrifying to me.
I really appreciated those thoughtful on-ramps that made my life easy by adding a temporary lane for merging.
High-five to whoever’s idea that was.
If you want more people to join small groups, you have to make it simple. You need easy onramps.
- How do people join groups?
- How do they know about groups?
- Who do they talk to? Where do they go?
- What are groups like?
- How do you act in a group?
- How often do they meet?
All these questions must be answered clearly if you want people to jump in.
There is a small segment of the population who are relationally adventurous and love new things.
To the rest of us, the idea of spending every Thursday night from now until death in some random person’s living room sounds terrifying.
You see what I mean.
So, how can you create easy on-ramps to small group ministry?
A few ideas:
- Small group launch events…everyone will be new to groups, we’re all in the same boat.
- Short-term groups…if you’re interested in a small group but don’t want to commit for life, join this group for 4 weeks to see if it is for you.
- Growth by invitation…ask your current groups to invite a person or a couple. It’s always easier to respond to “come with me” than “go to that thing on your own.”
The point I’m trying to make is that people who haven’t joined a small group have reasons.
Do you know their reasons?
How are you removing those obstacles by creating easy on-ramps?
4. Invest In Your Leaders
When a new restaurant comes to town, and you’re excited.
But, when you check it out and the experience is terrible.
The long wait, inattentive service, lukewarm and over-priced food.
Will you go back?
This restaurant won’t last long.
Most people are willing to give a new and exciting idea, like a small group, a shot. However, if the experience is terrible, good luck getting them back...ever.
When it comes to small groups, the actual experience is paramount.
And how do you ensure a good experience?
Usually, it comes down to leadership.
The leader of the group sets the tone for the experience.
When it comes to small group ministry, good leaders = success and poor leaders = failure.
And, as you know, good luck convincing someone who had a bad small group experience to jump back in.
If you want to jumpstart your small group ministry, invest in your leaders.
Build a great culture. Provide them with skills and mentoring.
Take them to conferences...do whatever you need to do to ensure they lead well.
And, a side note: if you are launching a small group ministry, start small with good leaders.
DO NOT go full-scale with a few good leaders and mostly poor leaders.
The poor small group experiences will set you back severely.
5. Remove The Competition
One last idea.
For many churches, the reason their small group ministry doesn’t thrive is because of the competition.
If small groups are one of many options, your engagement will always be underwhelming.
This is difficult advice, but I’ll give it anyway.
Whatever you believe is the best strategy for discipleship in your church, invest in that strategy completely and remove the competition to that strategy.
If you’ve decided that small groups are the strategy that God is calling you to, then it’s probably time (with wisdom and grace) to remove the random Bible studies, peripheral ministries and the adult Sunday school program.
I’m sure some will disagree with me here, but I just believe that competing strategies lead to lackluster effectiveness.
Well, there you go. Five ideas for jumpstarting your small group ministry.
I hope this has been helpful. We’d love to hear from you and as always, thanks for reading.