People today are often extremely busy, including me. We have countless things going on at work, at home, even at church. With so many demands on our lives and limited time available to satisfy them all, small groups can easily get lost in the shuffle. We must be intentional in how we lead our congregations in order to shape a culture of small-group involvement.
Here are three tips on how to build that culture.
First, teach it biblically
Hang on, Ed, aren’t small groups not in the Bible? Sort of. It’s true there is no verse in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt make your church have small groups.” But, every church in the Bible was what we would consider a small group. There were no buildings; they were functionally house churches. The closest thing to the New Testament expression of the church today is our small groups.
Sometimes, people look to the Bible and say, “We should do house churches.” I am for house churches, but most people are not going to do that. Usually, people are much more likely to join a small group than they are to switch to an entire new model of church.
In addition, there are a number of commands in the New Testament that cannot be fulfilled in a large group setting. For example, one command is to bear one another’s burdens. A big group is not conducive to this. How can you bear one another’s burdens when there are 200 people sitting, all facing forwards, lined up like rows on shelves at Walmart? How do you do that?
You bear one another’s burdens by moving from sitting in rows to sitting in circles.
Teach the value of small groups. Involve the leadership structure in your church when you teach it to emphasize the importance of small groups. Say things such as, “The elders of this church, and this church as a whole, believe that the best way and the way God has led us to follow the commands of Scripture is to do so in small groups.” That’s strong language and it will likely catch the attention of your congregation.
Second, promote it incessantly
People need to hear about small groups all the time. The more you can promote it, the more likely they are to understand the importance of small groups. I would try to mention small groups in some form or fashion in every service. An ongoing, incessant discussion of small groups is key.
Recognize that people are persuaded in different ways, so use a variety of methods. Persuade them from the pulpit, persuade them with testimonials, persuade them with biblical teaching, persuade them with a slogan. Show a video testimony of someone in your church who has been impacted by small groups. Adopt a new slogan such as We’re moving into deeper community.
If you are promoting your small groups incessantly in a variety of ways, at the very least no one will miss out on small groups because they’ve never heard of them.
Third, lead people organizationally
We need to lead people towards small groups organizationally. You probably have some kind of metrics in your church—some way to track guests or track attendees. If you do not have a database, I would recommend getting one. They can be simple.
Use your database to track who is in a small group and who is not. If you are in a small church, call the people who are not, talk to them about why you think small groups are so important, and encourage them to get involved. If you’re in a larger church, farm out the responsibility; give each small group leader a list of people to call and then check back in with them.
People tend to do what you inspect, not what you expect. In calling people, you begin to build an intentional process through which you’re reaching out to those outside of your small group ministry.
Through teaching biblically, promoting incessantly, and leading organizationally, we can encourage our brothers and sisters to get involved with small group ministries. Ultimately, I think this will help us see spiritual growth in our churches as more and more of our congregants get involved in the transformational spaces of small groups.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.