Return to the Why
When I ask my children to do something, they often ask why they have to do it. I hate to admit it, but there are times when I've answered, "Because I'm your dad, and I asked you to." Sometimes this is because they wouldn't understand the reasons, but there are other times when I just don't have a reason. We do a great disservice to people when we fail to explain why small groups are important—especially when we're asking dropouts to re-engage. We can't tell them they should jump back into a small group "because I'm your pastor, and I asked you to."
Work through why you want people to be involved in small groups. One of the best ways to do this is to keep asking yourself "why" until you get down to the fundamental reasons. Here's how that might look:
Why do I want people to be in a small group?
So they are consistently engaging in relationships with other believers and exploring their faith.
Why do I think those things are important?
Those are two important activities in learning what it means to follow Jesus and living it out.
Why is it important that people learn to follow Jesus and live it out?
Real life is in Jesus and his way. People will experience what they were made for both individually and in community as they learn to live as his disciples.
Hopefully you get the idea. This could be a great exercise for you to do with your staff or leadership team. Then when you talk to people who have dropped out of small groups, you can start with the most important "why" and move back toward the more practical step of encouraging them to try a group again.
Welcoming the Dropout
Some people have been so jaded by small groups that really listening, reframing expectations, and returning to the "why" will not get people to step back into a group. When this is the case, it's important that we welcome these small-group dropouts in whatever capacity they're willing to engage. As they're able to slowly walk into the life of our community, they'll likely feel safer thinking about the step of joining a small group. We just have to be willing to give them the time and space to overcome their fears and bad experiences.
—Trevor Lee is the Lead Pastor of Trailhead Church in Littleton, Colorado; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.