Your church exists to be a positive force in the community. When you have a clear mission and vision statement, it's easy to fall into a pattern of every meeting having a distinct purpose and end goal. Don't forget, however, that people also come to church for connection with others. While that is certainly possible amidst the choir practices, committee meetings and potlucks, some people get caught up in the tasks at hand and don't ever really forge any strong bonds with others. The potential result is quite a few members who do a lot for the church but still feel like they are on the outside looking in. Healthy small groups can alleviate that tension. By intentionally focusing on the social aspect of community, small groups make sure members are both productive and connected.
What Is a Small Group?
Different churches handle their small group ministries in various ways. Some organizations like a strong structure to the meeting, whereas others encourage their groups just to get together for dinner and see where that takes them. The latter option is more likely to help people who are looking for a place to belong feel welcome. For example, a scripture study group may cause some hesitation for some people, but an invitation to dinner where they don't feel pressured to comment or agree with the group is often a more relaxed affair. Leave small groups open so that new members don't have to contribute anything but a side dish.
How Big Should Small Groups Be?
On average, 10 to 15 people is about as big as a small group should be. It's unlikely that any group will turn out that large, so it's ok to aim high. Plan to have at least enough small groups that you can set the cap at 15 and still include everyone who is a member of your church. Not everyone will want to join one, so this doesn't automatically mean every group will be that big. By planning many groups that meet at different times, you can make sure there's a place for everyone who wants to participate.
How Do You Start Small Groups?
Organizing the groups is a job in itself. Have at least one person who oversees the process. If more than one person agrees to help, that's even better. The organizers can either ask specific people to lead each group, or they can put a call to the church at large to find volunteers. Once groups have formed and you have a basic schedule of when each one meets, consider having a social event in which members can mingle and find the group that seems to work for them the best. Some people may not want the pressure of choosing, and the organizers can help them find a place.
What Are the Challenges of Maintaining a Small Group?
Maintaining a small group over time is a lot of work. There are several reasons why small groups eventually fail:
- Members who force their own agendas
- Leadership burnout
- Low attendance
- Life changes
The organizers of the small group team offer support to each group's leader. If there are problems in some groups, they can act as liaisons to help find a solution or mediate any conflicts that arise. It's inevitable, though, that some groups will eventually disband. This is why it's a good idea to encourage new groups to form whenever someone expresses interest in leading one.
As important as your mission to serve your city is, not everything you do has to center around it. Small groups give members the opportunity to get to know one another and form strong relationships that support their own growth. In your passion to care for the community, don't forget to care for your members, too.