While there are key times to capitalize on, the other important practice for effectively marketing our groups is consistency. People should hear about your small-group ministry more than a couple of times a year. How often is up to you. Churches range from a monthly focus on small groups at weekend services small-group highlights every single week. You need to choose what works best for your church's rhythm. But it's your job to push and fight to ensure that small groups do get some consistent focus.
Consistency doesn't have to be boring, though. You could have different small-group leaders on stage every week for a brief story about how their group is impacting them. You could also create a short video that shares a cool small-group story from the previous week. Or you could highlight these stories in your church e-mails, newsletter, Facebook page, or bulletin. Find a way to regularly share small-group stories. And don't be afraid of over-communicating. We have a saying here at COMMUNITY that if we feel like we've talked about something until we're blue in the face and are sick of hearing ourselves, that means we've almost communicated enough.
Here's where this whole promoting thing gets fun—you get to be creative in how you communicate about your groups. At COMMUNITY, we've done things like hanging big signs from the ceiling in our lobby showing different zip codes or neighborhoods, and then having the leaders who host groups in those areas standing under them, so that people can quickly find a group near them. We've had small groups give out hot chocolate or pancakes or cans of pop or anything we don't normally serve at weekend services, so it creates extra energy and buzz at a weekend service (which is a win for your pastor and the rest of your church, too). One great example of this is when a couple of our men's groups handed out Dad's Root Beer at services over Father's Day weekend. The group members were visible and the fun connection gave them a talking point. That same idea works with other groups, too. Empower your group leaders to be creative and come up with a fun idea.
The point is to try different approaches, and take risks. You might even consider having people sign up for groups in a new way to see how people respond. We usually have people fill out a card in their weekend program or stop by our welcome center, but we've also tried having leaders walk around with clipboards and sign-up sheets, creating different flyers to place on every chair during service that they can fill out, and even having people walk to certain areas of the sanctuary during services to meet leaders and sign up. Let God ignite your imagination for ways you can connect people into groups.
Create a Culture
The biggest difference I've seen between churches that are able to effectively group a high percentage of their people and those that aren't is having a small-group culture. In other words, churches must make the decision not to be just a church with small groups (where groups are just one of many programs offered). Instead, they must become a church of small groups—where small groups are the core ministry of the church. To really get there, you have to create a culture of small groups, where they are the priority and the norm.