People want intimacy, and your church is ready to start small groups. A natural fit! But how do you connect the yearning of the public with the opportunity of your ministry?
Let's imagine you have a mission to connect with seekers and mature disciples. You have appointed a great small-group leadership trainer, and you have trained some terrific small-group leaders. Some of the groups may be based on a curriculum, some may be based on a common interest—but none of the groups have attracted much attention. How do you get the word out?
The very nature of small-groups ministry means that traditional church advertising won't work. The last things you want to do are:
Put a sign-up sheet on the back wall of the sanctuary
Build an information booth in the center of the refreshment hall
Offer a phone number in the newsletter
Advertise in the newspaper
Attach flyers to car windows in the mall parking lot
You can't communicate intimacy through mass media distribution, and you can't arouse interest with generic lists of intriguing topics.
Wise churches are getting the attention of marginal members and community seekers in three basic ways. These all require some serious research into the lifestyle segments that dominate your primary mission field (based on the average distance people drive to work and shop). This research will tell you media preferences, recreation venues, topics of special interest, and even the kind of retail shopping and restaurants various publics frequent.
Once you've done the research, do the following three things.
The most effective personal invitation happens between people of similar lifestyles. Don't expect an affluent, married empty-nester with a passion for golf and a taste for Starbucks to get very far inviting a struggling, single 20-something with a passion for extreme sports and a taste for beer to a small group. Even if the affinity is on target, the trust gap will rarely be bridged. Men invite men; women invite women; teens invite teens; and keep going with almost any imaginable demographic.
Maybe your church does not reflect the demographic diversity of your zip code, and maybe you're wondering how anyone in your church can make a personal invitation to people who are so different. Fortunately, personal invitation is like the game of dominoes. Every piece has two numbers, and every person has at least two sides to their identity. Match one side of your identity to that of a seeker, who has yet another side to their identity, and they match that to another seeker, and so on. If you have ever played the game of dominoes, you know that the chain of connections wiggles all over the table, configures in strange shapes, and follows unexpected directions.
That's what happens when small groups grow through personal invitation. Let the personal invitations direct the flow of small-group multiplication. Don't expect small groups to conform to prearranged plans.
Every lifestyle segment (and all the micro-cultures that explode like popcorn in your mission field) has particular places where they gather. These gathering places may be in cyberspace—and you can certainly take advantage of advertising your small groups in the websites, chat rooms, forums, and facebooks that they frequent. Or you can just twitter.
However, most lifestyle segments still have physical places where they tend to gather: certain kinds of restaurants, entertainment centers, sports venues, continuing education opportunities, fitness and health care centers, and elsewhere. That is where you post flyers, hand out brochures, and especially station real live people who can hang out and talk with peers.