According to Gallup polls, 40% of Americans are involved in small groups that meet regularly for care, support and nurturing. Another 7% express an interest in joining such groups.
George Gallup, Jr. and Timothy Jones in The Next American Spirituality write, “We are not talking about a fad, but a remarkable sociological phenomenon.”
If your spiritual community is not providing small group ministry support for your congregation, there’s a good chance potential newcomers will find what they are looking for at the church down the street.
If you are providing small group opportunities for your congregation, and are not seeing at least 40% of your congregation engaged in these groups, you may be “missing the mark” on some of the tried-and-true practices that have created mega growth in other denominations.
Mistake #1: Offering Classes as Your “Small Group” Ministry
I asked a long-time Unity member to consider hosting a small group recently. He responded with a sizable list of objections all related to “small group ministry” programs he had tried to support in the past. “Honestly,” he told me, “I’ve heard it all before. I don’t get much out of leading book studies.”
A true small group ministry exists for much more than intellectual stimulation. In small group ministry, the connection and the community is even more important than the content.
Make sure your small groups are more than classes, or you will lose the people who are seeking the trust, intimacy and support of spiritual community.
Mistake #2: Seasonal Programming
A minister recently confided in me, “We have tremendous success with our Fall program. The only problem is, some of the groups continue meeting after the program is over, and those people eventually splinter off from the congregation.”
Most Fall programs are hugely successful, with congregants hungry to build relationships and support one another. Many ministries celebrate a spike in attendance and in giving during these times.
The challenge occurs when the series is complete. After a month or two of experiencing the support of a small group, it is back to “church as usual.” This can often have a jarring effect on group members, particularly those who lack stability and consistency in their personal lives.
In our highly fragmented, fast-changing society, it is important to provide opportunities for long-term, stable relationships within the spiritual community. Year-round small group ministry can help you provide for the year-round need for care, support and personal connection within your congregation.
Mistake #3: Getting Group Leaders Off and Running!
It’s fairly easy to launch a small group program. It’s not as easy to sustain it. It takes ongoing support and training of leaders, acknowledging group successes, and fully integrating small groups into the culture of a ministry to create long-term impact.
When leaders tell me that their small group program “didn’t work,” my first question to them is always this: Did you provide ongoing support and training for your leaders?
You can probably guess the response.
Preparing group leaders before the launch is not enough. Go beyond your initial orientation and provide ongoing training, support and recognition for your leaders. Otherwise, your program is likely to fizzle.
Gallup and Jones offer this encouragement: “The small-group movement appears to be bringing us back together, answering what would appear to be one of the central needs of our era—for intimate and healing community.”
When we create opportunities like this for our congregations, the result is far more than increased engagement. Small groups facilitate transformational spiritual growth for all who choose to participate. This inner growth inevitably manifests as the growth of your community.