Launching a new small group is never easy. There are several different variables to consider, different steps to take, and different types of people to interact with. If one thing goes wrong in the launch process, the whole group can unravel in a hurry.
Fortunately, there are some broad factors that can increase your chances of success when launching a new small group. I've outlined them below. Group leaders who take these simple steps before launching will increase the likelihood of that new group taking flight, so be sure to pay attention.
There's good reason why Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two when they first did ministry together (Luke 10. So find a friend and tell them you'd love for them to partner with you in the start-up of a new group. This creates built-in encouragement for both of you, which will further ensure you don't drift away or drop out from God's complete plan for your new group (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Make the effort to invite people into your group before it even starts. Contact your friends and invite them to be a part of your group, then invite them to invite their friends, too. The goal is to create your group's nucleus before you even go public.
In other words, don't wait to form your group until the launch date. Start inviting people ASAP and view the "launch week" as an opportunity to build off the core you've already encouraged to come together.
Have a vision for what you'd like to see happen in your group:
- Affinity. What people hold in common has a way of attracting and bonding them together in a group. "Affinity" can motivate some people to join a group who would have otherwise not been interested in participating.
- Vision. Catch a vision for what you'd like to see happen in your group! What do you want to see happening a month from its launch? What would you like your experience to be? Try to forecast the experienceyou hope participants will have and convey that in your promotions. Vision will help to set expectation, ensure more "right fits" with prospective members, and help people feel more comfortable in their new commitment.
- Short duration / high frequency. Groups that launch with a shorter duration (4-6 weeks) and meet uninterrupted every week have a much greater chance of sticking together after their first season than those who don't. This combination of meeting logistics works well in the American culture. People entering a new situation like to know there's an ending point, just in case the group experience proves not to be a fit for them. Furthermore, the weekly meeting frequency accelerates relationship-building and actually creates more time for people to get to know each other. This is because groups that meet bi-weekly or monthly find themselves allocating more time for members to "catch-up" before they can build off their previous group experience.
- Food. Don't underestimate the attractional power of food. It's the ultimate ice-breaker! Food conveys hospitality—it brings people together, makes people feel more at ease (at home), creates conversation, and enables people to open up more together. Groups that include food as a part of their first gatherings (especially a meal) amplify their message of welcome to newcomers.
- Childcare. As soon as you know you'll have people in your group with childcare needs, talk about options for childcare so you can convey this to other people inquiring. If your host home has a play area for the kids, communicate that in your promotions. People with young kids will be instantly drawn to groups that express an early plan (no matter how simple it may be) for how kids can be a part of the group or be in another location of the host home while the adults meet.
When letting the rest of your church know about your new group, help people to construct mental pictures of what they can anticipate by "advertising" everything you just planned (affinity, vision, food, and childcare). The more questions you can answer up-front, the better. This also helps them to invite friends to join them who may not have any prior church or small-group experience.
—Reid Smith is the Community Life pastor of the multi-site Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry.