When our church took a health assessment, we made an interesting discovery: People who were not in small groups rated themselves just as highly in fellowship/connectedness as people who were in small groups.
We used to view our church as hundreds of disconnected souls in desperate need of community. But we learned everyone in our church is connected to someone: a family member, co-workers, customers, neighbors, and friends.
We wondered, How do we convince people who think they're connected that they really aren't, and get them into small groups?
The solution was simple. Our senior pastor invited anyone who would like to do a study with their friends to take the materials after the service. The curriculum went like hot cakes. In fact, after our second service, I had to tell our senior pastor to quit asking, because we ran out of material.
Rick, one of our most passionate leaders, told us that leading this group is the best thing he's ever done. However, he never would have done it without a nudge.
There were many other Ricks out there, reluctant to lead a small group. Think about the demands of a small group. First, we ask them to do a 6-week Bible study, probably for the first time. Then, we ask them to take an extra hour out of their week. Finally, we ask them to spend this extra hour doing the study with a group of strangers. Sounds like a recipe for failure, doesn't it?
By inviting our members to do a six-week study with people they were already connected to, we gave them an excuse to get together with people they already knew and loved. Not only did these groups form faster, but they are lasting longer.
Three women who already met every Thursday for coffee at Starbucks are now doing a Bible study together. Bored commuters on a train from Central California to the Bay Area are spending wasted time studying God's Word together. Employees in the break room of an overhead door company spend their lunchtime doing the small group study.
Once the unconnected were connected, we worried about how to get to know everyone. We learned you couldn't; however, you can get to know each host. Each of our new hosts receives support from a small group coach, their "buddy," who has some experience—at least one 6-week study's worth. They call the new host each week after their meeting to see how it went, pray for them, and answer any questions they might have.
In the fall, 40 percent of our new small groups started by inviting our church members to pick up the curriculum and get together with their friends. Today, 100 percent of our new groups have started this way.
What's our biggest problem now? We have to convince them that they actually are small groups. But that's the least of our worries.