If you could get everyone in your church to do one thing, what would it be? For me, it would be joining a small group. I believe that people who commit to walking with a group of Jesus followers for a season of life usually experience extraordinary growth.
Here’s a question: What would happen in your church if everyone joined a healthy small group? What kind of spiritual movement would you see in your congregation? I think it would be extraordinary. So, let’s talk about small groups for a bit. Specifically, what can you do to get more people in your church into groups? I have a six ideas.
I believe that motivation often starts with vision that is captured by compelling language. When we invite people to join a small group, carefully crafted language that communicates the value of groups is important.
For example, anyone who has been part of our church for more than a few weeks would know that we emphasize 3 discipleship environments:
The row, circle and chair.
The row is our weekend church services, the circle is small groups, and the chair is personal time with God. We invite everyone to participate in these three environments. Everyone in our church knows that they should be in a row, circle, and chair.
We also carefully craft language that we repeatedly use around the value of relationships, which of course are a huge part of small groups. We say things like:
We believe that relationships help us become more like Jesus
Choosing to journey together with other Jesus followers often accelerates growth.
If you want to get more people into small groups, they need to see and hear the value of groups. Compelling language can help with this.
Model and Preach It
Those of us who are parents are fully aware that kids listen to our actions more than our words. Our kids are more likely to do what we do than do what we say. This is why modeling is so important. There is an important lesson here for small group ministry.
If you want small groups to become a key part of your discipleship process, then leadership must model it.
Your people will do what you do more than they’ll do what you say.
One of the simplest ways to do this is through preaching. Whenever I have an opportunity, I talk about my small group in sermons. I do this for two reasons. First, my small group has deeply impacted me. What I have to say about my small group is real and not fabricated. Secondly, I want to model small group participation. I want everyone to be in a small group, so I talk about it like it’s a normal thing that everyone should be doing.
If you want more people in small groups, model it and preach it.
Here’s one of the real challenges of getting more people into small groups. Those of us who lead small group ministries like to have clear seasons of starting and ending groups. If everyone joined a group in September that would be just perfect. It’s messy and complicated when people want to join at abnormal times. However, with that said, if we are going to model and preach small groups on a regular basis, then people will want to join groups all throughout the year.
What we need then are easy on-ramps to a small group. For your church this might look like open groups. In other words...
...at least some of your small groups must be willing and ready to welcome in a new person or couple at any time.
Or, like our church, you could have regularly occurring events that form new small groups. We do an event called Group Launch a couple of times a year where people who want to join a small group gather and we guide them in the process of forming groups.
Whatever it is you decide, you will need easy on-ramps to small group ministry.
Test Drive Groups
If you are on staff at a church or are a key volunteer in a church, chances are, small groups don’t weird you out. However, if you’re new to church or have never been in a small group, the concept might freak you out a bit.
So, I go to someone’s house who I don’t know and we sit around and talk about our feelings? Yeah…I’m out.
You see what I mean right? Sometimes it helps to provide some sort of test-drive small group experience. Something that would be helpful, fun, and meaningful that doesn’t give all your introverts the heebie jeebies.
One way to do this is to form short-term groups around a project or a specific study. For example, we recently did a sermon series on finances and in that series we invited people to a six week small group experience around the book Balanced by Andy Stanley. The study was short and had a specific topic. The idea here is that people might join a temporary small group around a felt need, have a great experience, and maybe realize that small groups are great and that they should join another one.
If you want to get more people involved in small groups, consider providing opportunities to test-drive groups.
Train More Leaders Now
If you begin to put into practice some or all of the ideas we’ve shared to this point, chances are, more people will want to join small groups, -- which is great, except now you need more leaders. Here’s an idea: start training those leaders now, before you need them.
It might be helpful to identify apprentice leaders in each small group that you already have. Ask yourself,
Who in this group has the potential to lead another group?
Then, invite and equip the current small group leaders to invest in these potential leaders through an apprenticeship. The beauty of this model is that if the small group grows, you have two identified leaders within the group and could multiply the group. Or, if you find yourself in a place where more people from your church are hoping to form or join a small group, you have new leaders already identified and trained.
The idea is to identify and equip more leaders now so that you are ready to respond to growth opportunities as they arise.
Make Small Groups Cultural
If you want more people to join small groups then small groups must become a central part of your church’s culture. Small groups must become what you are known for and something that everyone does. So, let me challenge you a bit here.
In order to make small groups a central part of your culture, you’ll need to kill the competition.
Currently, it may be that people in your church can choose between joining a small group or something else like a Sunday school class, a Wednesday night prayer group, or some sort of Bible study group.
You may have a different opinion on this, but I believe that in order to make small groups “the thing,” you’ll have to get rid of the other things. For example, at our church, there is no Sunday school, and there are no other church-sponsored Bible study groups. There are the row, circle and chair. That’s what we do. They are the three discipleship environments that we’ve chosen to emphasize. They obviously aren’t the only discipleship environments out there but they are the ones we’ve chosen.
We value small groups to the level that we have killed off the competition. Like I said, this is a challenge. It may be great for your church or you may feel that it is inappropriate to your context. That is your choice to make.
Well, there you go, six ways to get more people into small groups. I hope something in here has been helpful. We’d love to hear your ideas on promoting small groups. If you have an idea to share or a question to ask, leave a comment. Thanks for reading!