I hear it all the time: "We've launched 25 new small groups. How can we help them continue to meet?"
With the development of the HOST strategy, it's not hard to launch a wave of new small groups. In fact, it's very easy to do—that's the upside of using hosts. The downside is that the groups come with a life expectancy of about six weeks.
That's right—six weeks. You may be wondering, Isn't there anything that can be done? I'm glad you asked, because the answer is yes! Here are five keys to sustaining your new small groups.
First, give your new hosts a coach on the front end—before they even begin working with their groups. This person should connect with new hosts on a weekly basis, walk alongside them, and help them get started. This is important. New hosts are usually very receptive to this idea in the beginning, but less so as the weeks go by.
Caution: It's important to recruit coaches based on who is right for the job, not who is available. The best candidates are almost always serving in a different place already. Freeing them up to move to the right seat on the bus separates fruitfulness from people serving "in name only." Don't give in to the temptation to fill an org chart with available bodies. Basically, if you want to sustain your groups, you'll need the right people leading the charge.
Provide your new groups with material that is easy to use. There are a growing number of great Bible studies to choose from, but someone needs to do the legwork and research which studies have a high potential for accessibility and growth.
Caution: The study you choose will determine how easy it is for hosts to invite friends. In other words, if you choose a study that is very deep and lasts for 15 weeks, it might be hard for your hosts to find willing group members—you'll have to find members for them. If you want your hosts to fill their own groups, you'll need to find a topic that is very invitation friendly.
Encourage your new groups to have members take turns being in charge of different responsibilities. Session one ought to end with a brief look at a calendar and an invitation for group members to rotate bringing refreshments, coordinating the prayer list, or even facilitating a session. Recruiting one member in advance to take a turn is often all you need to prime the pump. And groups that rotate facilitators are much more likely to continue meeting after a Bible study is finished.
Caution: Do this in a way that is not forced. "Everybody needs to take a turn" is not the right idea.
Encourage your new hosts to find at least one other member who is willing to open their home for a meeting. Groups that can meet even when the host is out of town are much more likely to continue.
Caution: This secondary meeting location should be nearby. Moving week four's meeting to a home 15 miles away is not a good idea.
Don't let your new groups finish a Bible study course without preparing them for what will come next. In fact, provide your groups with a second study no later than week four or five of the first study.
When you do this, it's very important that the second study be similar to what the group started with. Was the first study DVD-driven? Give them a DVD study to do next. Was the first study 6 weeks long? Give them another 6-week study to do next. You get the idea. Keeping the second study in a similar format ensures that your new hosts will not be intimidated. And telling them what's next by week four or five catches them while they're beginning to develop a rhythm for the group.
Caution: You probably want to assign the second study yourself. Allowing each group to come up with their own follow-up study almost always leads to the selection of a study that is too hard or too long.
—Mark Howell; excerpted from www.smallgroupresources.net, © 2008. Used with permission.