Small groups are where some of the most important ministry happens in the local church. This isn’t to say anything bad about the pastor and his sermon, the children’s ministry, or anything else. But it’s easy to show up on Sundays and consume a sermon like it’s a class lecture or create a children’s ministry that’s more about having fun than it is leading kids to know and love Jesus. When we are deeply involved in the ministry that happens in a church small group, it can become difficult to hide. There are plenty of easy places to hide in church, but a small group, especially one held in someone’s home, is one of the hardest places to hide. Small groups are often the places where church members bare their souls with one another, pray with one another, and provide for one another. It is where the body of Christ can often feel most real, most tangible.
If small groups in church are so important, then, how do we get more people to participate in them? Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding small group participation:
1. Create a culture of community.
Some churches focus on the Sunday worship experience and don’t invest much in ministry outside the church walls. This is a tragedy. The vast majority of ministry takes place outside the church walls and is a result of church members loving one another and their communities. If pastors and church leaders focus on the ministry that happens on Sunday morning over and above what happens outside of Sunday morning, it should be no wonder why church members aren’t particularly interested in being a part of a small group on a weeknight in a church member’s home. If a church hopes to involve as many people as possible in the vital work of small group ministry, the pastors and church leaders have to intentionally create and celebrate a culture of community from the stage and throughout the communication efforts of the church.
2. Provide a variety of options.
Schedules are crazy and kind of annoying, aren’t they? One of the best ways to ensure few people participate in the small group ministry of your church is to only offer groups on a couple of nights of the week. This limits the options and opportunities people have to participate, naturally.
As you coordinate the small group ministry and strategy of your church, consider having a group that meets every single day of the week if you can manage it, but fill in the weekends last, as those are likely to be the least available for many who may travel or otherwise have inconsistent schedules each weekend. In the same way, while many small groups meet in homes, your context may be benefitted by having one or two small groups meet in the church building itself. This is a good option to consider as well. The point is this: provide a variety of options to be sure that schedule and availability is no reason for someone to not participate. One Church Software offers tools to help you promote your various small-group ministries and participation in church. A list of groups or an individual group can be embedded into your church website, with information about the group, its leaders and a way to register. There are also tools to let potential small group members filter through the list of available groups based on when or where the group meets, if childcare is available, and more.
3. Share testimonies of how groups change lives.
This is an important aspect of small group ministry that is often overlooked. Real life change happens in small groups. This is understood. But too often the real life change that happens within a small group is never shared with the broader church body. This is sad! To the extent that church members are comfortable sharing about how their lives were impacted by their small groups, it would be tremendous to have regular testimonies of change during the Sunday service experience. What better small group marketing opportunity is there than to share about the change that happens during the week during the Sunday gathering?
Celebrate Ministries You Want to Grow
As it is said, we cultivate what we celebrate. If you want more church members to participate in the small group ministry of your church, as you should, you need to celebrate that ministry and the ways God works through it. The work of the Holy Spirit that happens in members’ homes during the week shouldn’t be divorced from the worship that happens inside the walls of the church on Sunday mornings. Integrate the two. Use some time on Sunday to celebrate what happened on Monday or Thursday or whenever your groups are meeting. Make it easy for people to join these small groups in church and share the stories of how God work.