The 12-step strategy can be summarized in 4 words:
Focus short-term, plan long-term.
Many people are reluctant to join a long-term group, especially with people they don’t already know. Perhaps this is why so many small group events and campaigns fail. But people will try a short-term group (four to six weeks, maximum) that meets a specific felt need. Once they have made some friends in the group and experience life change (and this does not always take long to occur), they’ll stick with it. Here’s the 12-point strategy:
Plan a short-term (four- to six-week) group experience in which people naturally want to participate. These are often all-church campaigns tied to a sermon series. Find the best time(s) of year (fall or beginning of the new year, for instance) for these campaigns. Some churches do these short-term groups one night of the week in a big room with round tables.
Recruit the leaders for these short-term groups from your existing groups, especially those who are already sharing leadership. Often, the group leader from an existing group steps up to lead a short-term group with the expectation of returning to the original group at the end. The original group is led by one of the core team members. (Short-term group leaders can also be recruited from among staff members, elders, ex-group leaders and other leaders in the church.) The important thing is that you’re asking these leaders for only a 6-10 week upfront commitment (the duration of the short-term group plus a week or two on either end).
Begin every new group with a core team that shares leadership. The mistake many leaders make is launching new groups with one leader, which then limits the reproducibility of the group. The core team members will be selected early on from the new group members. They will share some of the facilitation leadership but, more importantly, the shepherding (investing into) of other members.
Plan for the long-term from the start. What will these short-term groups do after the initial group commitment ends? What will they study next? I provided several options for each type of group. I wanted these studies to lead to spiritual growth and be relatively easy to lead. I’ve found video-based curriculum usually work best.
Be certain in those initial weeks that every person is shepherded. Every person should be invested into. Each core team member should take responsibility for two or three others whom they call, send emails, meet with for coffee, pray with, and so forth.
Get everyone involved. Share ownership with everyone. Ask group members to bring food, read aloud, look up answers, ask the icebreaker question, etc.
A couple of weeks into the initial group experience, have the leaders begin to ask new group members what they think about the group. Would they be interested in continuing? We’ve found that most people say yes. (Those who don’t say yes usually have other plans, but they’d be willing to join another group later on.) If I developed the study these groups use, I write these questions into the lessons.
Communicate often with leaders and those who share leadership about upcoming plans. Would they be willing to continue leading this group for a while? Is there someone in the rest of the group who can become part of the core team? Will the leaders stay in the group for, say, six more weeks? What’s the process for continuing the group long-term, and who will lead it?
Make specific plans to continue meeting. At this point, don’t be afraid to ask for a commitment. Decide on all the particulars: where and when you’ll meet, who will lead, what roles others will take, etc.
Train. As the initial groups come to an end, plan a short group break, during which time (1) the group can either meet for a party or do a serving project together or both and (2) you provide a basic, upfront training event for emerging leaders.
Coach. Ask the original short-term group leader to slowly hand over leadership of the group (if necessary) and then continue to coach the new leader(s) to help the group to be healthy and grow.
Celebrate! A new leader has been developed and a group multiplication has occurred, so recognize it and celebrate. You want to see this same process happen again and again, so hold this up as a model.