How to Incorporate Several Models
When considering using several models simultaneously, here are a few things to think about:
1. What groups do you already have?
When I arrived at my new assignment in South Carolina, I discovered women's Bible studies, men's accountability groups, parenting groups, couples' groups, singles' groups. off-campus groups, on-campus groups, free market groups, host home groups, and adult Sunday school classes. After assessing the groups to see if they met the above criteria—connection and care, Bible application, and serving others—I blessed them and left them alone.
This is where small-group pastors and directors often make a mistake. The temptation is to consolidate a hodgepodge of groups into one system or to align them with a single method. A lot of effort goes into breaking what doesn't need fixing. To force existing groups to accept a new model in a common system doesn't make sense.
2. Where do you want your next wave of groups to go?
While you shouldn't coerce your existing groups to head in a new direction, you can direct new groups into a new initiative. Your initiative might be introducing service into group life or focusing on accountability in groups.
At the church I served at in South Carolina, our initiative was a practical one: only start new groups off campus because we were running out of space. When we trained our new leaders, we stated up front that groups would meet in homes or in a public place like Starbucks or Barnes and Noble. There simply weren't any rooms available on campus for new groups.
With this new initiative, there are two important things to note. First of all, no group currently meeting on campus was asked to move off campus. I didn't want to break what was working. And second, over the course of four years, we started four groups on campus who had no other place to meet, including a group for single moms where the church provided the childcare. These were exceptions. We let them be exceptions. And that's okay.
3. Who do you need to connect?
If the church is in a place where 70 percent or more need to be connected into groups, then a church-wide campaign can be an effective way to recruit a large number of leaders and connect members into groups. People offer to open up their homes and either invite friends to join them or welcome people assigned from the church. A video-based curriculum helps the host facilitate the discussion and takes away the fear factor of leadership.
If the church is already mostly connected into some sort of groups, then a church-wide campaign could provide great synergies among your existing groups. More than likely, though, it won't produce an overabundance of new groups. There's a reason why the last 30 percent or so haven't joined the type of groups you've offered: they don't like them. They might prefer getting together with a couple of friends at a coffee shop. They might have odd work schedules. Or they might be looking for a type of support or study that you're currently not offering. Church-wide campaigns won't help connect these people into groups. You'll have to figure out what they're looking for first.
4. How is God inspiring people to meet?
If you remove the limits from group formation, potential leaders will become very creative. In our church in California, a leader started a group on a commuter train. Every Tuesday morning, the group gathered in a section of the train on their way to work. A group of engineers in downtown Tampa couldn't make it home to the suburbs in time to have a group, so they met during lunch at their workplace. A group of law enforcement officers formed a first responders' small group because they could speak each others' language and weren't asked to fix other group members' speeding tickets anymore. A group of guys met weekly for Bible study and several times a month to make barbecue. They're called the "Holy Smokers."