We’ve already considered the first two questions for small group ministry planning:
1. Why are we doing small groups?
2. What will our small groups do?
Our next question is another critical consideration for making these ministries their absolute best:
3. Who will we involve in small groups?
Now at first, we might think this is an easy answer. After all, don’t we want everyone to connect to a small group? Isn’t that our purpose–that everyone will find friendship or be engaged in life-changing study of God’s Word. Isn’t the best answer “everyone?”
If your church is trying to launch a new effort of small group ministry, you may want to consider an approach of stages in development. Many churches have found that a church-wide approach is extremely difficult to get working well. Some people don’t want to be in groups, and some groups succeed while others fail leaving those in the failed groups a little less excited when the next opportunity comes around.
Now, if you have the leadership resources and a large group of people with small group experience and excitement, launching a church-wide strategy may be within your reach. But for most, it may prove best to get a few groups started and learn how your church responds to such opportunities. A few successful groups can be excellent catalysts for adding more groups, and you can learn needed lessons and “work out the bugs” more easily with a few groups than multiplying your early mistakes in a large number of groups.
There’s a lot to learn. For example, in some places, older adults aren’t as comfortable meeting in homes for group discussion as they are attended church classes. It may take time for these adults to warm to your new ministry strategy, so starting with them can create a negative impression for everyone else.
Younger adults tend to engage small groups more easily. They enjoy group discussion and self-guided study in the more relaxed home atmosphere. Why not start a couple of needed groups among these younger adults to test your approach. They don’t mind the “experimental” mindset and will be great promoters of groups when theirs is successful.
In fact, older adults may already be enjoying a Sunday school class or more formal midweek service setting. Forcing them to change from what they feel is working can get you off to a rocky start so letting a few groups get the ball rolling can be a much better way to gain momentum.
Also, you can target specific types of groups and try different approaches to see which works best in your setting. Some groups may be able to reach out to others while different groups may need to be more closed. We’ll talk about these types of groups in an upcoming blog, but you can help yourself by experimenting with a small number of groups rather than multiplying your first ideas too widely.
Don’t forget that one-size fits all seldom fits anybody real well. The more flexible you can be in developing small groups, the more likely you can ultimately succeed.
So the best answer to our question “Who will we involve in our small groups?” might be “A few people at a time.”