I participate in a huddle of small group and discipleship ministers in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region that discussed how to get more people involved in disciple-making groups. Here are 12 of their ideas. Many of these work well in combination with others.
1. Build a culture of authentic community in small groups in the church. Of course, the preaching minister/lead pastor is in the best position to build this culture. Consistently mentioning in his messages how his group has helped him or made an impact on others sends the clear message that groups are important.
2. Redefine “normal.” In everything you do as a church, make being in a group the norm for church attendees and members. That may mean converting your membership class into a group experience, for instance. Help people, new and old, see that “this is who we are.”
3. Think “product placement.” Be sure groups are mentioned from the stage or during services, place items about them in the bulletin and newsletter, promote them from a visible place in your lobby, and so forth.
4. Share group stories whenever and wherever possible. Use video and live personal stories in services, on the website, in your newsletter, on social media, and so forth. Be creative!
5. Consider how to reach different segments in the church. Do you need one or more groups to reach out to young families? Single moms? Blended families? People who work third shift? Be creative in how you help people connect.
6. Encourage every group member to talk about and invite people to visit and join their group. Create an invitational culture in the groups by reminding members that this is part of their mission (1 John 1:3).
7. Pray for your “one.” Dale Reeves, pastor of adult discipleship at Christ’s Church at Mason (Ohio), has asked group members to consistently pray for and then invite the person whom God has put on their heart and in their path.
8. Leverage other church ministries. Start new couples groups out of a marriage class, or ask current group members (not just leaders) to stand so that those not yet in groups can ask them about their group. Another idea for young couples groups: Serve in the nursery or at the check-in counter and prayerfully look for opportunities to invite new young couples to your group.
9. Plan a large small-group fair or connection event two to three times per year. Plan so that group members and leaders can meet people and extend invitations to their groups.
10. Provide clear entry and exit ramps. Make it easy for people to get into a group, but also provide guilt-free exits for them if their initial group isn’t a good fit.
11. Begin new groups with short-term commitments. A barrier for many people is the fear of jumping into a group that has no clear ending point. But the best, most authentic, family-like groups are ongoing. To solve that problem, ask for a four- to six-week commitment up front. Once people make friends in a group, they are much more likely to stay.
12. Plan a small group campaign several times a year. Base the group materials for this campaign on the sermon series. People like to dovetail what is being discussed in weekend services into their groups, and this provides a great way to get new people involved in an up-front, short-term commitment. By the way, it’s vital to have your next group study planned in advance, so you can easily invite the new people to stay in the group. Be strategic!