"What's the best way to launch new small groups?" As a consultant for small-group ministries, I get asked that question a lot—probably more than any other question, in fact. And for good reason. After all, who isn't trying to increase the number of groups (and the number of people in groups) in their church?
So what's the answer? It's not as easy as that. I could tell you what I think, but I'd rather lead you through a way of thinking about the issue so that you can make up your own mind.
But first, an important assumption: There is no problem-free method for starting new groups. This is a very important realization. What it means is that no matter what situation you're wrestling with, all of the possible solutions to that situation have issues. All of them. There is no problem-free solution; you just have to choose which of the problem sets you'd rather have.
Three Common Methods of Launching New Groups:
Now to answer the question: "What's the best way to launch new small groups?" To determine what's best for your own congregation, you need to know that there are three common ways that groups are being started.
- The Old Fashioned Way. A leader is recruited (either from an existing small group or out of the congregation) and usually given some kind of training. Those who sign up to join a small group are assigned to the new leader once training is completed. A slight variation of this method is where people who would like to lead a small group can sign up to be trained. This method is probably the most familiar. Whether you're a cell church, embrace the "meta model," or are totally into affinity-based small groups, this is your method at its root.
- The Connection Event. This is an event is used to gather potential small-group members—usually something social. Next, a process sorts those prospective members by some kind of affinity and then helps group members choose a leader from amongst themselves. This is often referred to as a "small-group connection." Popularized by Saddleback, this method has been used by many churches around the country. North Point's GroupLink is a version of this idea that utilizes preselected leaders for the new groups.
- The HOST Strategy. Hosts (as opposed to "leaders") are recruited to open their home and invite a few of their friends to be part of the group. The recruiting process can be done by tapping the shoulders of the "usual suspects" or as a kind of invitation in the worship service itself. The way you recruit has an effect on who hosts and ultimately whose friends get invited. Once hosts are recruited and trained, they're frequently listed as open groups ready to receive unconnected people looking for a small group. This method was popularized as a part of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign.
Now that you know the three common ways that groups are started, let's develop the problem sets for each of the solutions.
The Old Fashioned Way
- It's hard to get apprentice leaders to leave their existing small group.
- It's hard to find qualified leaders who are not currently in a small group.
- It's hard to find enough leaders to provide the number of groups needed.
- Some who volunteer to lead have alternative motives.
The Connection Strategy
- Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person chosen to lead.
- Lack of control about the quality of the leader candidates.
- Those chosen to lead may be unwilling to commit to leading.
- Might necessitate an honest conversation if the group chooses someone with insurmountable issues.
The HOST Strategy
- Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person who volunteers to host.
- Lack of control about the quality of the HOST candidates.
- Those who commit to host a group may not wish to continue.
- It might necessitate an honest conversation if the host candidate doesn't meet your qualifications.
Based on these problem sets, which way do you go? You can surely see that there really isn't a problem-free solution. So which set of problems would you rather have?
In some ways, it may depend on things like how concerned you are about your unconnected members and attendees, how effective you've been at recruiting and developing new leaders, or how well you know the unconnected people in your congregation.
Mark Howell is the founder of SmallGroupResources.net, helping churches across North America launch, build, and sustain healthy small-group ministries.
—Mark Howell; copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today.