Our group first went to the shelter to serve a meal during the holidays. A year later, we went again, and after that, we decided we wanted to go on a regular basis.
Designate a Point Person
As you pray about where to serve, you may notice that some people in the group have a lot of passion about serving, or about a particular need. Ask one of them to be the organizer of your service project. In our group that person is me, but I have another woman who will organize things if I happen to be out of town. In our case, that person confirms with the shelter that we will be there, coordinates who's coming and what each will bring, and figures out transportation.
Go With Humility
Your group should expect not only to serve, but to learn. Remind them to be open, to notice how helping others can minister to them. Our group has learned so much from the women at the shelter. Often they are escaping abusive situations, and despite their trials, they are women of great faith.
Every person you meet matters to God, and they have something to teach you, if you are open and humble. Treat them with respect. See the value of the people you're serving—and expect God to speak to you through them.
While one-time projects can be great, real life-change happens when you serve consistently. Not everyone in the group may be able to make it to a one-time project. If you do something monthly or quarterly, more group members will have opportunities to serve. Perhaps you want to adopt a school in a needy area and volunteer to tutor there on a regular basis, or help out at a food pantry once a month.
Understand the Purpose
Serving others, whether through a one-time project or on-going involvement, is not a way to earn points with God. Rather, it is a way to open ourselves and allow God to form us. It is obedience to Scripture. By serving others, we allow God to develop our compassion. Serving helps others, but also forms us spiritually. By imitating Christ, who came to serve, we grow in Christ-likeness. It is not about impressing God, or others.
Talk about these ideas with your group. You may want to discuss some of the countless verses in the Bible that talk about the poor. (Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 are great passages to start with.)
We serve in a pretty rough neighborhood in the city. Some of our suburban group members simply don't want to go. That's okay. For those who go, it's an act of faith—we trust that God will protect us on our "urban adventures." The group members know they are always invited to the service project, but we don't force it. Sometimes I look for another way to include them, such as asking them to donate food. Ask group members to suggest projects they have a passion for—you'll see participation increase.
I have found that non-Christians are often more open to doing a service project than they are to coming to church or small group. Inviting non-group members to come along on a service project can often be a first step toward inviting them into the group itself. One of my neighbors, who was not yet a Christian, was always glad to come to the shelter. She was very comfortable talking to the women there, unlike some of the others from our group, who preferred to stay in the kitchen rather than come out and interact with the guests in the dining room.