By Alison Zeller
Many churches kicked off a new year of small-group ministry in January. If your church was one of them, how’s it going so far? Are your small groups loving and serving or are they struggling to get a meeting on the calendar? Are they full of vibrant, supportive discussion or are they on the brink of shutting down? Are your brothers and sisters in Christ reluctant even to join a small group?
No matter the size of your church, you can run a successful small-group ministry program. And, your worshippers are sure to benefit from spending meaningful time with their friends in Christ. If you’ve run into a few challenges already this year, don’t give up. The tips below provide straightforward advice on how to handle small-group issues like leadership, marketing, curriculum, conflict, and much more.
- Who is the leader of your small groups? If you’re at a small church, the pastor may be the de facto answer. But if you’re part of a larger ministry, you might have several options. Whoever takes on this role should drive the vision of the small-group program, be a resource to the group leaders, and step in when conflict arises.
- If your church seems to be burnt out on “small groups,” don’t be afraid to rename the program. This fresh take will clue in worshippers to your renewed focus and goals. For example, one church calls their offerings “Life Groups.”
- Keep it simple! Here’s a cut-and-dried format that could benefit any small group.
- Who are your small-group leaders? Take time to talk to these people and make sure that leading is right for them. Then, train them properly.
- Create ways (multiple ways!) to get the word out. Recruit a volunteer to design a flyer, booklet, or video that describes all of your ministry’s small-group offerings. Make sure that whatever marketing tool you use makes it easy for worshippers to sign up immediately - a tear-off card, a simple web address, or a small-group leader manning a registration table in the church entryway.
- Welcome newcomers with enthusiasm! Churchgoers should never be told that the small groups are “full.” Briefly get to know the newcomers and steer them toward a group based on common interests or stage in life.
- Intentionally cycling your small groups is an easy way to make sure you don’t leave any newcomers behind. Put at least a few small groups on a topical, six-week cycle. They might focus on finances, marriage, or parenting. When the six weeks are over, encourage worshippers to join a new group.
- Is your church staff participating in small groups? Worshippers notice this kind of thing. If you have buy in from your staff and key volunteers, it will speak volumes about the value of your small groups.
- How else are you communicating the value of your small groups? People are incredibly busy these days, and even though they might want to spend time with a group of Christian friends, they probably need a bit of extra encouragement. Make it click in their minds: “Yes, this is definitely something I want to do.” Try sharing testimonials, showing videos from actual small groups, or recruiting a few ambassadors who are really good at talking about the value and meaning of the groups.
- Are your small groups any different than Sunday Bible study? They should offer deeper discussions and deeper relationships. If people aren’t breaking past the surface and chitchat, you may need to reevaluate your small-group goals.
- One way to go deeper in small groups is to make the groups mission focused. Encourage groups to study what Jesus means when he commands us to love our neighbor and seek out opportunities for Christian service at least monthly.
- The Bible is a huge, sometimes confusing, book to study. So, help the small-group leaders pick curriculum and associated content. You might base this on the specific interests of each group or pick a topic for all the small groups to study at once. You could even make the small-group content a deeper discussion of the sermon series.
- Have you witnessed “groupaphobia”? Some worshippers are very timid when it comes to joining a small group. This article explains the reasons why and gives a few tips for helping individuals get past groupaphobia.
- Conflict and challenging issues are sure to come up in small groups. Have a plan for this and train your leaders appropriately. How should they respond to doctrinal disagreements? What if a group member stops showing up? What if a group member gossips about things that were shared in confidence?
- Although it’s the last thing you want, you must provide a way for participants to get out of their small groups. If you make it a long, painful process, people will be discouraged from ever joining small groups in the first place. Keep the process simple, ask a few questions for feedback, and encourage people to contact the church office if they’d like to return to a small group at another time.
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