If you’re new to small-group ministry you might be surprised to find that different churches handle something as core as connecting people into groups very differently. Some churches ask group leaders to find their own group members, while other churches have people sign up for small groups and then assign them to groups. Neither is better, but each has their pros and cons.
It got me thinking, What was Jesus’ primary method of connection? In Luke 15, Jesus tells stories about important connections. In the story of the lost sheep, Jesus illustrates leaving the 99 to find the 1. The story highlights the importance of seeking others. In the story of the prodigal son, however, we see a father whose primary characteristic is his steadiness and receptivity. When the son makes the decision to come back, the father is prepared and responsive. This story highlights the importance of receiving others.
Jesus was equally focused on going out to the lost and allowing the lost to come to him. Our ministries can adopt either mindset or try to hold both together.
Seeking: Leaders fill their own groups.
Receiving: A connection person assigns someone into groups.
Combining: Your team splits focus and integrates both strategies.
We all engage in both forms of connection casually and formally. With the finite resources we have, however, we will all focus on one of these three methods. Your church will benefit from thinking deeply on this topic to determine which method will work best for you. Hopefully, this stirs up the right questions for you and your ministry team to answer together.
1. Leaders Fill Their Groups
Why Choose This Model
Jesus’ mission was not just to save the lost. His mission was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And Jesus didn’t just tell stories about seeking lost sheep—he lived it. While common practice of the day was to avoid the sick and indigent, Jesus went right to them. While most students sought out the most prominent teachers and pleaded to be their students, Jesus sought out his disciples. He found them and called them to follow him.
Church staff will always focus on outreach, but it is absolutely valid for our small-group leaders to do the same. If you want to develop missional communities, you will encourage leaders to take 1 John 2:6 to heart when it says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” It can be powerful when small-group pastors encourage leaders to actively ask God who might be their next group member.
The benefits of groups filling themselves are threefold. First, when leaders and groups take the task of finding new people seriously, it stretches them. When a leader asks God who the next member of their small group should be, they depend more on their faith and less on the church staff. Steven Furtick has famously said, “Extraordinary moves of God begin with ordinary acts of obedience.” When groups own the connection process, they get to see God at work.
Second, your small groups have fantastic networks. Any group knows a multitude of people that might be open to an invite. When groups are tasked with filling themselves, they lean on networks to which the church does not have access.
Third, when a group leader invites people into their group personally, there’s a better chance of them sticking. When a group member invites a friend, there’s already relational equity, and there’s a higher chance of new people attending. Organic connections like this are fantastic. If a pastor assigns people randomly to a group, however, the people start from scratch—relationships may form, or they may not.