Tom recently stopped attending my Wednesday night men’s life group, and the group felt his absence. Tom is fun, energetic, and encouraging. I took him out to lunch to dive more deeply into his life, but I also had another question: What could we do to keep him coming back to life group? He said, “Joel, I love the group. I like the flexibility and how we minister to each other. The reality is, I’m tired after working all day fixing air conditioners in the California heat. Most nights, I’d rather relax in front of the television than go to life group.”
What could I say to motivate Tom? “Stay home”? “Come when you feel like it”? I could have asked our men’s group not to meet weekly, but knowing Tom, he probably would have the same struggles and reasons for not attending. Yes, our group missed Tom when he wasn’t there, but Tom also needed the group. God wanted to mold Tom into a stronger disciple of Jesus Christ, and group life would help him in the process.
So how do we motivate people like Tom to remain faithful in our small groups? What about those group members who don’t attend regularly? How do we entice them back to fuller participation? Let’s start by clearing up two common tactics that do not work to motivate people to join and stay involved in small groups.
Hammering on “Shoulds”
It does not work to tell people they should be in a small group. We are all inundated with shoulds. Many of them come from Satan and his demons. Some come from family or work. So when the group coordinator shares another should, the overworked person in the pews thinks, “No way am I going to add something else to my busy schedule.” After all, they feel more obligated to fulfill the shoulds closer to home, like marriage, family, work, and friends.
Focusing on Church Growth
I have the privilege of traveling around the world and seeing explosive growth in churches, and I rejoice in what God is doing through small-group ministry. But telling people to join a group because groups will help the church grow in numbers doesn’t motivate people. Neither does telling them that you need more small groups to help “close the backdoor.” Those who are serving Jesus and making room in their schedules for groups are not going to do so because of church growth goals.
So what will help move people toward greater commitment to small-group ministry? Here are five things that do motivate:
One thing on everyone’s mind is how short life is, and how lonely it is when lived alone. It speaks volumes of the ability of small groups to provide real community when you share a testimony of how a group member went through a hard time and was surrounded by small-group members who prayed, loved, and cared.
Nancy would be a perfect candidate to give her testimony. When she first started attending my wife’s life group, she was pregnant and single. She faced life alone because her family lived in another city. The life group became a family to her, and they prepared for the baby as though it were their own. They even gave Nancy a baby shower at one of the group meetings. When Nancy went into labor, a group member drove her to the hospital. Another brought her and the baby home. The group members provided meals for her. Nancy experienced God’s unconditional love through the group. In the weeks after the baby was born, Nancy and her baby attended the group, and she received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.