Stepping out to start a new small group can be a scary experience. All of us have the same questions starting out: Will anyone show up? Have I invited the right people? Have I picked the right study? How will I disciple everyone in my group? And the biggest question of all: will my new group survive? Statistics say that around 70% of new businesses will eventually fail within five years. I would hazard a guess that it’s around the same for new small groups in the first year. We all have the best of intentions at the start, but life happens and good intentions get derailed.
However, there is hope! There are a few things that you can do now that will help your small group survive and thrive through the whole year. Here are five keys to starting and finishing strong.
Inconsistency can derail a small group from the start. There will be weeks where it is extremely tempting to just cancel. A few group members start dropping out early in the week, and now it seems easier to cancel and punt to the next week. After a few weeks of last minute canceling, most people will give up on showing up. Resist that urge to cancel, and stay consistent with your meetings. Some of the most impactful group meetings I have been a part of was with just a few people. Start the group off with a covenant or agreement stating that members will need to be consistent with their attendance throughout the semester, or join the group at another time when their schedules allow.
Most people are already involved in a small group. There are smaller groups of people we interact with every day. We have groups at work, groups at school, groups at the football game, groups at the park, and on-and-on. For your small group to be compelling enough for someone to give another time slot to, it has to go beyond the surface and offer opportunities for people to grow deeper in their faith and love for Jesus. If your “study” time consists of 10-15 minutes of shallow conversation about the sermon from Sunday, or how their week was, that’s not enough.
To love God, we have to know God, and that will come from those deeper conversations inspired by a well written study of God’s Word. Check out lifeway.com/balanceddiscipleship for a robust Bible study plan.
Another difference in what you are offering and what people can get anywhere is genuine care. Your group members are needing more than a social time and a Bible study. The goal is to have your small group feel like family. Families care for one another and are there for each other when circumstances are great and not so great. We should celebrate and weep with our group members equally.
Even the best experiences will get old when repeated too many times. If your small group meetings are always the same, the group will quickly become stale and group members will start to fade out. Change it up occasionally with the type of study you are doing. If you are consistently doing studies through books of the Bible, try a more topical study for a few weeks. If your group always uses a video driven study, change it up with discussion driven study for a semester. Also, build in nights where the group just does something fun. Plan a night every six weeks that is a game night, or something fun outside of the normal meeting location.
If you are a leader who has to do everything in the group – host, provide food, facilitate the discussion, handle the prayer request, schedule the activities, etc – then you are not empowering your members to discover their spiritual gifts and take ownership in the group. Consumers will feel the freedom to move on when the group no longer fills their needs. Owners have a stake and will feel the responsibility to help the group fill other’s needs. Start the group off with the expectation that everyone will eventually contribute to the life of the group. This will help create owners and not consumers.