Note: This article is excerpted from our resource Connecting Newcomers.
"I guess they couldn't care less if I was really in a small group or not."
Michael signed up for a small group at his church several weeks ago and he has yet to hear anything—from anyone.
After two years of wrestling with the idea of joining a small group, Michael finally had the courage to take this step of faith. Now—after no response from his church—he's either at a point of frustration or he's simply forgotten all about it and moved on with his life.
What Does The Crack In Your Ministry Look Like?
I've encountered this story countless times in my chats with over 100 small-group ministry leaders across America.
I've come to refer to these people as the ones that "fall through the cracks."
The people who fall through the cracks are those who sign up for a small group through weekend services, e-mails, phone calls, the church website, or at group launch events. And then, for one reason or another, they were never followed up with, and never ended up joining a group.
The reality is that while this isn't going to happen to everybody, it is going to happen to somebody.
It's even happened to me.
Almost every ministry leader I spoke with admitted that they too have this crack in their ministry.
How about yours?
When talking about this challenge with ministry leaders, I asked what they thought contributed to the cracks. Two main reasons stuck out:
- My group leaders often forget to follow up.
- I have limited [staff/resources/time] and a lot of groups and people, and I simply can't keep up with all them all.
These seem more like excuses, right?
What We Should Remember About Every Small Group
From my perspective, one of the most important things a group ministry leader does is get people successfully connected to small groups, not just lead them to a group.
Like you, I have a passion for small groups. I've been a group member, leader, and coach over the last nine years, and here's one thing I've learned: Every small group has the potential to change the course of someone's entire life.
My first small group changed mine: I met my wife through that group.
As group leaders, pastors, and coaches, the last thing you and I want to see is someone missing out on a life-changing, faith-changing opportunity simply because we never followed up with them.
How to Help Everyone Who Signs Up Connect to a Group
So how can you prevent this crack in your ministry from getting worse, and maybe even help seal it up? I'd like to share with you some ways to solve this problem.
1. Make it easy for people to sign up.
The lower the hurdle you set, the more likely people are to sign up. Try asking for just their name and e-mail up front. It only takes a minute. Once they're in and have made that small commitment to show their interest, they'll be more likely to give you more information. This creates momentum for them to join a group.
2. Don't manage the group placement process alone.
Delegate some of it to other staff if you can. If not, recruit a volunteer to help. Sharing the responsibility will immediately take the pressure off and help you not feel so overwhelmed.
3. Track unconnected people separately.
Keep a separate list of people who are interested in a group, but aren't connected yet. I like to call them "prospects." Put them on index cards, in a spreadsheet, Evernote, etc.—whatever works for you. It's important to keep them in a separate place from your list of groups and people. This way, you can reference them more quickly and treat them differently, like you should.
4. Watch the number of days that pass.
The longer someone has to wait to get connected to a group, the more likely they'll change their mind or find something else to fill in that empty time slot. So act quickly. Aim for getting people connected within the first two weeks after they sign up, while it's still fresh on their mind.
5. Make it easy and clear for your group leaders.
It's common to pass a new signup over to a leader. When you do, be very clear on what you want the leader to say and do, and when you'd like them to do it. For example, you can say something like: "Hey, I've got a young couple that I think would be a great fit for your small group. Can you contact them and say a quick hello and invite them to your next meeting? Can you do this by the end of the week? If it isn't a good time to add them to your group, let me know."
Tip: If you decide to include the prospect in that e-mail, put the leader's e-mail in the To: field and the prospect in the CC: field. Recent research by Yesware.com showed that when you do this, the leader is more likely to open and respond to your e-mail.
6. Follow up with each signup immediately.
People will want to know if you ever got their sign up request and if you're working on finding them a group. For each signup you get, take just a minute to e-mail or call them back and say something simple like: "Hey Michael, I got your group sign up request. I'll make sure you get connected soon. Stay tuned." That simple confirmation will go a long way to put people at ease. It has for me.
7. Schedule the group leader follow-up.
Put it on the calendar to follow up with the leader of the group to which you connected your prospect. This is a huge drop-off point for many group ministries. Leaders will often forget to follow up, or they unsuccessfully try to follow up once and move on. So plan on this happening by following up with the leader a week or so later. Just send the leader a quick e-mail or text, or give the leader a call. Ask how things went contacting the prospect and if there's anything you can do to help. It's ultimately your responsibility as the ministry leader to make sure prospects are contacted by group leaders.
8. Schedule the post-placement follow-up.
This is another big drop-off point, and it's one that many ministry leaders don't even think about. Once you know a person has been connected to a group, put it on the calendar to follow up with him or her a week or so later. Just send them a quick e-mail or text, and give them a quick call. Ask prospects if they went to the group and, if so, how it went. This can lead to some really great insights for group members' first group experiences, and it will show them that you really do care.
Take Action: Implement a System
I realize this can be a little overwhelming. It seems like a lot to do. You and I both know how important it is to make sure people get plugged in. Be intentional and come up with a system for this—a way of efficiently and consistently handling people who want to join a small group—so that they are successfully placed into one every time. Then if people aren't connected into a group, it's because they didn't want to be in one—not because you didn't place them in one.
Without a simple system, chaos ensues, and people inevitably fall through the cracks. And when people fall through the cracks, there's a good chance they'll never join a group at your church.
This is why I created a completely free tool for small-group ministries called GroupForms. It's a kanban board style of visually tracking each person through the entire group placement process: from sign up to getting connected. It will automatically remind you to make those follow-ups, as well as let you know when someone has been waiting for too long.
I urge you to set aside a few hours to come up with an intentional system of handling small-group signups. Explore tools like GroupForms, Evernote, Google Calendar, Google Docs, or software that your church is already using. The most important thing is that you find one that works for you and your ministry.
Whether you know it or not, you already have a system for handling small-group signups. It's either going to be an intentionally good one or an unintentionally bad one. The choice is up to you.
—Tony Hill is a Christ-follower, husband, father, and tech entrepreneur outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with a heart for small-group ministry. His vision is to see more people in the world connected to a healthy community of believers. He is currently building tools for small-group ministries. You can find him on Twitter and learn more about his tools: Huddle, GroupForms, and GroupVitals; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.
- What is the current sign-up process you're currently using? How well is it working?
- How often do people fall through the cracks in your ministry? Why do they fall through the cracks?
- What system do you believe would work best for you and your ministry? Why? When will you implement it?