Church leaders want to know why small groups don't work to grow the church. Spoiler, small groups do work with the right intent. The best small groups, aren't branded and don't call themselves "small groups". They simply align interests. Help people find “their people.” Because when people find “their people,” the church becomes “their church.”
We like to categorize "church groups" in two categories. Every church calls this first category something different. The name varies, but they are RELATIONAL groups. Relational groups serve to directly benefit members of the group. The second type of group is a serve-oriented group. Serve groups typically have direct beneficiaries outside of the group that indirectly forms relationships inside the group.
We commonly hear that as churches get larger, they need to feel smaller, hence the need for small groups. The issue is, most large churches struggle relationally–which means we can be missing out on an enormous avenue for impact if we aren’t connecting to and meeting people's relational needs. Scaling an effective small group ministry proportional to the church's size is difficult.
Here are some areas where things can go bad:
Here are some universal goals all churches have in common:
Stop with the seasons. Most churches have seasonal small groups dictating people when to start and stop (sometimes it sadly forces groups with momentum to stop). Let leaders/hosts decide when to start and stop. Church leaders need to replace "seasons" in their mind with "campaigns". Just campaign seasonally because the efforts of creating new relationships SHOULD NEVER STOP.
Stop calling them groups. Or Small Groups, or whatever your church wants to call them. The moment you brand something, your making a promise and associating that with your church. When someone has a bad small group experience, they will relate that with your church instead of the leader of the group who maybe just is bad at relationships or the interest didn't line up. This stops a lot of unnecessary church hurt.
Seriously, stop using the word group. The moment you invite someone to a capital G group or a "small group" or "life group" WHATEVER. The sentiment of obligation comes with it. Why not when you meet someone new, just ask "Hey, would you want to hang out Tuesday?" or "Hey! Me and some friends are getting together Friday, want to join?". That doesn't feel like some obligatory thing your pastor required you to host and also get at least 5 people to join.
Start with One. Who said you had to have a group to start? Can you make a friend and consistently keep them in your life? Start there and when you do that try to repeat your success with another friend! Jesus didn't get all 12 disciples in one small group season. Wow, what would the church look like if everyone committed to just one new person. (The Church would double) Jesus started with Andrew who ran and got Peter. That's a word for somebody. Can you be a good enough friend to one person that they then want to bring someone else to the party?
Make it all about the personal invite. Personal invites are always superior. You don't have to create special events or digital pushes to invite. The best events and opportunities to invite are the in person services the church already hosts. Just remember to make events about connection. Just like salvation decisions, churches should be quantifying group signup activity after every event/service. Group leaders usually give up before inviting. How many times in church has a relational pastor heard "no one signed up for my group". Well how many people did you personally invite? How many people did you call? Texting is great, but a call sends the sentiment that you genuinely thought of them and you intentionally want them to spend time with them.
Take the time. Get to really know people and their interests. Don't worry about the numbers. Go after the one. Jesus had crowds, but he was always seeking out the one. Be the ultimate connector! When meeting new people, it's likely they won't share all our interests, but our goal is to know them and know others to connect interests. Have the right motivation to connect with someone and not talking people into a process from a place of obligation is key!
So many pastors and group directors want to make an exponentially larger groups ministry, but never stop to look at the circumstantial reality there in. A great groups director told me once, "love the people right in front of you." Are all your leaders/hosts walking with Christ and growing closer to God? Encouraging them in their own walk with God will help them see His heart which is for his people.
There is no tool that will magically make your small groups ministry be great. Unlocking peoples heart and minds to be passionate about having relationships is way more important than any tool. That being said, modern ministry happens through messages. Using an app like Involv gives the church realtime data on members' activity in group messages and events! It's worth checking out once you get the first part right.