Central connection is actually high risk. If a connection doesn’t work out and the staff made the connection, the person might attribute the mismatch to the church. Without fantastic follow up, this can lead to major challenges, and people may not want to try getting connected in the future.
3. Combine Both Methods
As with anything in ministry there is always a middle ground. This does not mean that the middle ground is best for you. Sometimes if we try to do everything well, we end up sacrificing too much in all areas.
That said, there are many ways to combine these strategies. Some churches do central connection year-round, but host connection events where leaders and prospective members can interact face-to-face (often called GroupLink, a term introduced by North Point Community Church). Other churches use the HOST model to launch groups. They lower the bar of small-group leadership and invite people to host people in their homes. These churches then come behind the hosts who have stepped up and do more of the intensive training on the back end. Still other churches primarily depend on leaders to fill their own groups, but still allow new people to sign up online or through a form at church, assigning them to groups as they sign up.
Regardless of how you integrate these models there are still benefits and drawbacks of bringing them together.
If your ministry is pretty new, you might not yet know if either model is “right” for you. Combining both models or running them at the same time can be a great way to see what works best for your staff, volunteers, and culture.
Combining both strategies also allows you to be flexible. This allows you to pivot quickly in the case of changing vision, staff, or weekend messaging. It also means you can empower a variety of types of group leaders. For instance, if leaders love evangelism, they may enjoy filling the group with people they meet. Others who are more focused on shepherding can depend more heavily on the church assigning people into their group.
Have you heard the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? When you use every strategy, you can find yourself without any clear strategy. Clarity is key when we’re challenging people to step up in their faith. When we have two different connection strategies it can be confusing.
The combination of strategies can also put stress on our team. If you are in a context where you have a sizeable team, this is less of a burden. You can have different people who handle different things. If you have a smaller team, it may be unnecessarily burdensome.
Choosing Your Best Connection Strategy
There is no right choice for everyone, but there is a right choice for you. Any of these strategies can thrive and produce spiritual fruit—but not in every context. Each church is different and every small-group ministry exists in a series of larger cultures. Trust God, lean into your team, and be intentional in choosing your connection vision—and don’t be afraid to try something new if your current strategy isn’t working.
—Jon Noto is a Community Life Pastor and licensed clinical counselor at Willow Creek Community Church's North Shore campus.