This article is excerpted from our resource Market Your Small-Group Ministry.
Small groups are one of the greatest ministry tools we have. They provide opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship. They provide an environment for real friendships to form, for relationships to build, for people to experience community—regardless of how big a church's weekend attendance grows. And they can provide a way for people to live out their faith on mission together in community rather than struggling to do it alone. I know this, and you know this. But how do we help the people in our churches know this? Because if they don't know it, believe it, and act on it, they'll never get to experience all that our small groups can provide—no matter how amazing our small-group ministry is.
As I talk to churches around the country about small groups, one of the challenges we all struggle with is figuring out how to get more people grouped. So the good news is you're not alone. The bad news is there's no silver bullet. But there are things we can do to make small groups such an integral part of the culture of our church, so easy and compelling to join, that we see more people connected than ever before. Imagine if small groups became the norm at your church—so much so that new and current people alike assume that joining a small group is integral to their faith, that they actually feel like they're missing out if they're not connected.
I believe it's possible. And even though achieving this is far more of an art than a science, there are some important and proven practices we can integrate that will help more people connect into small groups. So let's talk through the four Cs of effectively marketing our small groups to our churches.
Capitalize on Key Times
One of the biggest barriers to grouping people is that it's just plain hard to get people to add anything new to their schedules. Think about your own schedule: how easy is it for you to suddenly add a new weekly commitment that wasn't there before? It's really hard to add anything new. But it can be done. Just take a look at kids' sports: people are willing to add two weeknights of practice and a Saturday of games for their kids to join a new sport. They see enough value in the sport to rearrange their schedule. So how do we get people to see the same value in small groups?
One important fact for us to recognize (and stop fighting against) is that people already live their lives according to a natural rhythm. And, I hate to break it to you, but it's not your church's ministry or fiscal year. People generally tend to operate their schedules around the calendar year and the school year (regardless of whether they're in school or have kids). So the two times of the year that prove most effective to market your small groups are September (when the school year starts) and January (when the calendar year starts, and a new school semester starts).
So every September and January, do anything and everything you can think of to promote small groups. Put guides that list all of your small groups on every chair during weekend services. Talk about small groups from stage. Launch some brand new groups and highlight them. Have existing groups choose to start a new study so that new people can jump in at the start of something rather than in the middle. Capitalize on these natural times that people are rearranging their schedules.
The other key time to capitalize on is any time you have a brand new group starting. Some churches operate all groups on term schedules, so the start of each new term becomes their key time. But for those who have year-round groups, whenever you have a brand new group, advertise it. Let people know about this new opportunity. Besides the difficulty in making time in an overly packed schedule, many people are nervous about joining a group because they feel all the groups are already established and the group members already know each other well. If you let people know about new groups they can join, they'll often jump at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.