10 Simple Ways to Grow Your Small Groups
By Robert Pancake
Want to increase your small group membership and engagement? It's something I've put a lot of time and energy into considering for my church, The Vine UMC, and for my business. Here are 10 tips I hope you'll find helpful.
1. Target Key Times and Days
One of the largest hurdles to overcome when presenting the idea of small groups to individuals is that it can be really difficult to get people to add another item to their busy schedules. Look at your own schedule and imagine adding another weekly hour long (or more) commitment to it! Ultimately, however, we make time for what is important in our lives (such as sports, entertainment, etc...), so ideally we should leave room to schedule time together with other believers to meet in fellowship. With this in mind, it’s recommended to offer a wide range of times and days of the week in which your small groups meet. Some members may prefer daytime or nighttime and others may prefer to meet on weekends or weekdays. Whatever the culture is in your church, capitalize on natural times that are convenient to allow more people to get connected in your small groups.
2. Target Natural Schedule Shifts
- Encourage Members to Create/Make Time for Small Groups
- Capitalize on Natural Meeting Times for Members
- Offer a Wide Range of Times/Places
We have found that most Churches fall into two categories when offering small groups. They either have ongoing groups that meet year round (either in homes or in classrooms at the church) or they offer signups 2 to 3 times a year in a semester style system. Either way, you will want to consider the timing of your signup period in relation to the natural schedule changes in your congregation. For instance, if you offer 2 to 3 signup periods each year in a semester format, you should think about timing your signup periods to natural schedule alterations that occur in people’s lives. For instance, parents with school aged children naturally adjust schedules around the start of the school year and the start of the new year/January. Capitalize on this scheduling shift and offer signups to coincide with these events. Even if you offer year round groups, consider promoting your groups and/or announcing new groups around this time of year to maximize the number of potential signups!
3. Offer Easy, Quick & Organized Online Signups
- Identify & Target Natural Schedule Shifting
- Make Signup Times Coincide with School/Year Changes
- Promote Groups During Natural Schedule Shifts
For years, the go-to method for church small group signups was a sheet of paper stuck to a bulletin board in the lobby! Some (like my church up until just recently) may even still be using this method. Transitioning to a more modern, electronic, signup method has a number of inherent advantages including the convenience to sign up anywhere at home, at church, at work; from phone, computer, tablet, etc. Online signups also allow for simpler organization of groups, more efficient communication with group leaders/members, and quick tracking of information that is helpful in developing future group times/locations/topics based on what was most popular in the current session. Ideally, you want your congregation to be able to sign up as quickly and efficiently as possible with the fewest amount of barriers as possible.
4. Get Creative
- Offer Small Group Signups Online
- Simplify Organization & Communications with Leaders & Members
- Quick, Easy and Eliminates Barriers
Ok, so here’s the fun part... you can be as inventive and creative as you want to be to boost the interest of your church members and help get the word out about your small group signups! If you look at some of the best ad campaigns from the Super Bowl to Chick-Fil-A you will notice a willingness to step outside the box when it comes to trying to reach new people. Take this concept and run with it. If any holidays (such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day) line up with a theme in your group (parenting, mens group, marriage group, etc…) use this natural time to your advantage to promote this group. Something as simple as free doughnuts as people walk in for Sunday services might be a perfect segway to letting someone know about a men's morning coffee group. Other ideas include altering the format of the small group to reach people with different learning styles a “pray and paint” group could peak the interest of the more creative souls in your church where they study the Word and express their thoughts creatively through artistic expression during group time. The possibilities are endless, so brainstorm with your group leaders and let God kindle new ideas to reach new people!
5. Foster a Welcoming Small Group Culture
- Be Inventive, Fun and Creative
- Let God Kindle New & Innovative Ideas in Your Heart
- Look at Modern Advertising for Inspiration in Reaching New People
Whether a church is large or small, a new visitor or member can feel intimidated by the sheer number of new faces and people on a typical Sunday morning. Let your small groups be a core part of the community of your church by fostering an environment that encourages new members and visitors to join small groups to create connection with other and with Jesus. This will help to establish a culture that is inclusive, welcoming and Christlike. Also, don’t just mention your small groups during signup periods, but reference them throughout the year to make the small groups a welcoming and central part of your ministry.
6. New Locations for New People
- Create a Small Group Environment That is a Core Experience
- Welcome New Members and Invite Them to Sign Up for a Small Group
- Reference Your Small Groups Throughout the Year
Most small groups meet either at a church or at the homes of one of the church members. However, you don’t have to limit your meeting location to merely these two places. You may want to consider holding small groups (with permission) at local community gathering places such as coffee shops, parks, libraries, rec fields, restaurants or anywhere else you can think of that has an inviting atmosphere and an area for people to gather and talk. This can even serve as an outreach activity since a large group of friendly folks might draw the interest of others at an establishment. As an added bonus, the small group leader doesn’t have to vacuum or clean up before the small groups arrives at their home, so it’s a win/win!
- Don’t Limit Your Locations to only Churches/Homes
- Alternative Meeting Places can also be Outreach
- Seek Out Local Small Businesses to Support
It can be easy to get wrapped up and overwhelmed by the task at hand. Remember always to ask God to be your guide and to lead you down the path that He has laid for you. Don’t forget to spend time in prayer and listen for God’s press on your heart before all else.
8. Decrease Potential Barriers
- Spend Time in Prayer
- Ask God to Press God's Will on Your Heart
Nearly every person has a barrier or two that can prevent them from attending a weekly small group. With this in mind, try to reduce (or eliminate if possible) barriers that potential small group members have to attending a group. You can do this in a number of ways:
Consider offering a small group at a dog park for members with dogs that need some exercise. The dogs can have a blast playing in the park and the members can attend a small group close by.
Offer Childcare on Site.
If your church has a number of young families, you should consider offering on-site childcare for children at small groups.
Be Supportive of Kids with Special Needs.
Parents of children with special needs have unique challenges facing them with attending a small group. They may not feel comfortable leaving their kids with a babysitter weekly, but also may not feel comfortable leaving them with a babysitter on site with a number of other children. If possible, you may want to meet with parents of kids with special needs and see if there are any accommodations that would make it easier for them to attend small groups. Some possible options would be a babysitting certification program, offering church groups with supervision in a church sensory room if you have one, or reimbursement for babysitting expenses so that the child can get individual attention at home.
9. Decrease the Technical Barriers
- Decrease or Eliminate Excuses for People
- Assist with Childcare
- Be Mindful of Children with Special Needs
If your church has made the leap from paper/bulletin board sheets to online signups, you may think everyone has access to signup. However, you might want to consider those church members without easy access to a smartphone or computer. For these people, you may want to consider offering ipads or digital kiosks in the lobby for users without smartphones who would like to signup right away. Also, not every person is comfortable with technology, so be sure to have someone on hand to assist and help with signups as needed. Remember, the easier you can make the signup process, the more potential there is for people to get connected and join a small group at your church!
10. Create a Testimonial Video
- Make Sure Everyone Can Sign Up (Regardless of Technical Ability and Access)
- Offer Ipads or Sign-Up Kiosks in Lobby
- Have Someone Available to Assist
One of the most powerful ways to promote the small groups at your church is to let current leaders and small group members explain how joining a small group has impacted them and their family. This can be accomplished through an interview or testimonial video. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an overly elaborate production, but a simple interview style video can be a powerful promotion of the impact of your small group ministry. Once the video is created, it can be shared during service, through social media, in the lobby and during crucial signup periods.
Robert Pancake is a member of The Vine UMC and Co-Founder of www.churchgroupsHQ.com, a website tool for managing small group signups. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Interview Members and Leaders
- Share Video on Social Media and During Sunday Services
Note: This article first appeared at churchgroupsHQ.com