by Mark Howell
I believe many people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again. Just one thing. It could be an illness, a difficult marriage or divorce, the loss of a job or a child making bad decisions. One tough thing. One.
If people don’t have friends at church or a small group to rely on, they won’t call when tough things happen. They stop coming. They abruptly disappear, because they were never fully connected.
So what’s the best way to connect unconnected people? Start new groups. In my experience that’s far more effective than trying to add new people to already existing groups.
Here are five keys to starting as many new groups as possible in 2014.
Make starting new groups a high priority. If starting new groups is not already one of your highest priorities, it’s time to rearrange priorities.
Remove every unnecessary barrier to starting a new group. Barriers might include—leader qualifications and training requirements, room availability and prioritization, and narrow or infrequent windows to launch. Remember, there is no problem-free solution, but there are some unnecessary and artificial barriers that should be removed.
Make starting new groups easy. Three of the easiest ways to start new groups are launching a church-wide campaign, holding an on-campus connecting event, and providing an attractive short-term, on-campus opportunity that leads to a longer-term commitment.
Make heroes of new group leaders. In many churches the staff and veteran leaders are made out to be the heroes. And they deserve recognition for their commitment and longevity. But one of the keys to starting new groups is to make a big deal out of the people who respond to the call, step out in faith and start a new group.
Challenge (and inspire) everyone to join a group. This might be counterintuitive, but one of the reasons many churches struggle to start new groups is that they don’t sense a need. After all, the number of groups they have seems adequate. They can fit everyone in that wants to come. What do they need a new group for? If you want to start new groups you’ve got to change that mindset throughout the church.
Here are four important steps:
1. Schedule a church-wide campaign or alignment. These types of campaigns can have exponential power. One that aligns the topic of your weekend message with the small group study allows your senior pastor to say, “In order to get everything possible out of our upcoming series, you need to be in a group that is using the study that goes along with my message.”
2. Choose a topic that is appealing to unconnected people. I don’t think I can overemphasize this point. The topic you choose needs to appeal to the people you are trying to connect. Here are some of my favorites: Add Pressure Points to Your Church-Wide Campaign Short List and 5 Cross Cultural Church-Wide Campaigns that Ought to Be on Your Radar.
3. Ask your congregation for a six-week commitment. If you want to help unconnected people take a first step, you’ve got to give them a reasonable first step to take. Ask them for six weeks. That’s short enough to seem realistic, but long enough to begin to form connective tissue with the others in their group.
4. Give unconnected people an easy way to respond. Depending on the size of your congregation, there are several options. Although you can include an insert in your worship program, I’ve found it preferable to give prospective members a way to join a group without a middleman. A small group fair with booths for every group, an online small group finder or catalog, or on-campus connecting events like a small group connection or Group Link are all ways that allow direct access.
Before that one thing happens in the lives of the unconnected at your church, make sure they become connected with a small group by starting as many new groups as possible this year.
Mark Howell (@MarkCHowell) is the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, committed to helping churches launch, build, and sustain healthy small group ministries. He’s also the Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church.
Having served as small group pastor at Woodlands Church and Lake Avenue Church, Mark is a seasoned veteran with experience in both the contemporary and the traditional church. In addition, he served as a consultant with Lifetogether and as a host for the Purpose Driven Campaign Coaching programs. You can read Mark’s blog at www.markhowelllive.com.