We will look for new hooks, new books and new looks.
We will do everything we can to get people into Groups and Bible Studies to experience the life-changing power of the Gospel in community.
And yet, despite our best efforts, consistent involvement in small groups continues to diminish, finding more individuals and families walking alone.
A myriad of explanations, justifications and rationalization are given on why more people are not more involved in small groups. Issues range from from on-campus space to off-campus childcare… from under-equipped video facilitators to over-zealous Biblical orators. Recent studies from LifeWay research indicate that less than half of Protestant pastors (42 percent) would identify a “well-defined” plan for group ministry within their church.
After observing and serving alongside leaders from a number of large and small congregations, across denominational lines as well as group ministry styles, here are 10 simple reasons why people are not joining groups:
1. No defined pathway.
How to get into a group is generally fuzzy, and at best occasionally buoyed by a special series or sign-up emphasis. Without a clear and shared pathway into group life at the church, it’s easier for the marginally connected to opt out. What if instead, the process for group involvement was defined as a clear pathway that begins with the first visit a guest makes to your website?
2. No stories shared.
Congregants are told they should be in a group, or that they need to be in community. However, compelling, life-changing stories of impact are not shared as they are bubbling up from the groups. Families are not getting any less busy, and off-campus childcare is a struggle for everyone. If transformation through group life is not being highlighted and celebrated, the hassles will always outweigh the benefits. What if instead, regular stage and email communication was less announcement-making and more success-celebrating through the lens of story?
3. No connecting structure.
Churches are likely a mash-up of different ministries with groups, rather than a collection of groups with impact in different ministries. Knowing how each group works within a larger whole allows church leadership to remain focused and intentional. What if instead of competing, each ministry area understood their role and purpose in a larger strategy of discipleship through groups?
4. No leadership development.
Leaders are not being developed and deployed around the church, thus there is no vacuum or felt need sensed to engage in a group. Building a leadership development culture creates positive pressure for leaders to lead, as they will initiate and develop ways to exercise their gifting. What if instead of planning for a bunch of new groups that need leaders, we developed a bunch of new leaders who need groups?
5. No urgency sensed.
Pastoral leadership is likely to not be in a group themselves, and not experiencing the value of life in community. Without a personal investment into the relationally-challenging, schedule-taxing, but life-changing, group experience, it’s easier to anticipate community happening, rather than ensuring community happens. What if instead, the pastors and lay-leaders of the church were the most involved, and transformed, group members you had?
6. No common language.
Group life, living in community, and being known by others is not described in a consistent or engaging way. We adopt a “new and improved” marketing approach, rather than apply a steady and consistent engineering approach to groups. In doing so, we teach people to be consumers and wait for the appeal that appeals the most. What if instead, we called people into groups in the same way, over and over again… to such a degree that no one could escape their importance?
7. No exit plan.
Mismatched styles, incompatible personalities and underdeveloped leadership leave new group members trapped after only a few sessions. With no healthy system in place to allow group members to find another group, it’s much less awkward to just sit out each semester and avoid hurt feelings. What if instead, we created natural checkpoints that allow movement between groups, promoting investment over the long haul, rather than involvement during a sign-up season?
8. No leadership conviction.
Groups are seen and felt as merely “a way” to accomplish the great commission call rather than “the way.” Leadership seeks to please by fostering various styles or types of groups in a more-is-more mindset, rather than a focused less-is-more effectiveness. What if instead, we said no to good people with personal preferences, in order to engage more people through a singular, aligned process of group-driven discipleship?
9. No global integration.
On-ramps into adult groups are isolated to weekend worship services rather than integrated through family ministry. Milestones in Children’s and Student Ministry are natural opportunities to engage parents and place them in community with other parents. Baby dedication, transitions into grade school, middle school and high school are all likely seasons in which parents are navigating change and willing to invest time and resources to know that they are not alone. What if instead, every age-group leader on staff understood that their ministry success was directly dependent on as many parents as possible experiencing transformation in community?
10. No success measures.
When more numbers are the only marks of accomplishment, leaders can lose touch with the real reasons groups matter. Defining success in group involvement through the lens of individual spiritual growth reminds everyone of the real, eternal wins. Neither increasing numbers of groups, or a growing percentage of group involvement, are accurate indicators of maturation in Christ. Yet for most those are the only success measures. What if instead, each member of the congregation were regularly confronted by their own need for, and personal responsibility to be a part of, group life through common marks of spiritual growth?