Over time, I've been monitoring the discussion around whether it is better to have centralized placement of people in small groups, or have group leaders recruit their own group members. The other option is a hybrid model where people are placed in a medium-size group setting and then recruited into small groups (i.e. connection events, etc). Regardless, it's interesting to consider the various strategies and their outcomes.
Several things have brought this issue to increased relevance in recent years. In particular, small-group campaigns and geographical strategies have caused us to evaluate small-group growth and outreach all over again.
As I think about the recent history of the small group movement, I believe that in the past, many small group ministries leaned toward a decentralized model of getting people into groups–where groups primarily recruited there own members. The result, particularly in growing churches, was that small groups' numerical involvement could not keep pace with weekend worship growth. Having group members recruit their own, organically, just couldn't keep pace. Granted, small groups in these churches tended to be more stable and long-term, although many of these groups experienced growth stagnation because they lost the vision and mission to reach new people and to multiply new groups.
This stimulated a whole new movement toward small-group campaigns that could bring many people into groups over a very short time frame. To accomplish that, centralized group placement became much more important in order to achieve the goal of getting lots of people into groups fast. Also, several other group functions were centralized through the use of common curriculum,which lowered the requirements for group leadership.
The result has been that amazing numbers of small groups have been started. However, these groups tend to be more short-term, and churches find it difficult to maintain momentum and spiritual growth–particularly when the support structure for leaders doesn't keep pace with the number of new group leaders.
Finally, we now see an emergence of geographical-based groups where drawing the geographical boundaries for group populations is a centralized function, and recruiting members out of a set geographical boundary tends to be more of a group function. The jury is still out on how this strategy is doing.
So, what is the best way to get people into small groups?! It depends on your situation. A lot of the strategies are driven by larger, growing churches–and those strategies don't always transfer to smaller churches very well. I like what Don Cousins said about picking a strategy:
"We want our small groups to succeed. That is why we are so careful about the placement procedure. We believe disciples will not be made unless the leader wants to spend time with the group members. When leaders are allowed to choose their own members, they will do a better job, feel more positive about the experience, and be more motivated to serve again."
Ultimately, regardless of the recruitment strategy, the success of our placement or recruitment is largely determined by the leaders heart and their connection to Jesus!