Over the past 35 years I have used lots of great books and curriculum in leading small groups and discipleship groups—some of them written by me. Thinking of all of the good material I have used, my favorite small group curriculum now is The Good & Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.
My friend small group author Greg Bowman commended the book to me several years ago. Based on Greg’s enthusiastic recommendation I picked up the book and started to read it. As I started into it for some reason I thought, “What’s so great about this?”, and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. Then last year our senior pastors, Hap & Di Leman, gave me and all of our senior leadership team a copy of the book and worked through it with us chapter by chapter over coffee on Wednesday mornings. The book thrilled me and was tremendously helpful in accelerating my spiritual journey.
More recently I went through the book with four other guys in a men’s discipleship group early on Wednesday mornings. The biblical principles in the book again were life changing for me and them. As one of the guys expressed, Read the rest of this entry
No two small groups are the same. We multiplied our small group last month leaving our hosts and intern to lead a group in the nearby town of Mahomet while we launched a new group in our home in Champaign. Our new group is a lot different than the group we left.
We started the Mahomet group 1 1/2 years ago with three core couples. Several other individuals joined us and we had a nice sized group. But then one of the core couples moved to Italy and a several other people left the group. For a looooong time we had five people, if everyone showed up! The group grew very slowly. What do you do when you have a great group but it’s stuck or growing very slowly? For the answer to that question read my earlier blog entry “Pray, Invite, Eat, Repeat.” I mentioned in that blog entry that we invited 20 different people to a small group potluck one week, literally everyone we could think of. Only one came. The one person that came, however, came back and became our intern in time and is doing a great job of leading the growing group that we left in Mahomet.
Our experience with the new group has been very different. In contrast to our last group, it has grown very rapidly. It’s only met for a few times and already it’s larger than our last group was when it multiplied. We’ve hardly invited anyone but the group is still taking off. This week there were 15 adults, 2 teens and 9 children, even though a few families didn’t make it!
What do you do when your small group seems to be growing too fast? Two things are pivotal. First, you get everyone involved helping. Almost immediately we passed out the helpful Small Group Involvement Sign-Up Sheet. Almost everyone signed up to help in some way. (Hint: Collect them immediately after passing them out and having people fill them out. Do not let people take them home.) Now we are focusing more on how to involve people than on doing things ourselves. This takes more thought and advance planning but it quickly makes things easier.
Second, you start investing in future leaders. We could multiply the group now if we had a prepared intern but we don’t so I’m taking more time with key people and involving them increasingly in trying out different leadership responsibilities.
It feels a little crazy, overwhelming and exciting all at once when you experience rapid growth. It’s also puzzling because for the most part we are the same leaders doing the same things as when our last group seemed stuck. But there are always other dynamics and outside factors that impact our groups that are outside our control.
Whether it’s slow growth or fast growth our goals are the same—to see a growing number of people connect to God, one another, and Jesus’ mission for their lives.
How is your group doing right now? What is the next step for you to take your group to a new level? What questions or thoughts do you have about what to do when growth is slow or when growth is fast?
One reason why I want to write on this is because growing our own small group this year took persistence in these principles. We started strong with three committed couples. Then three other individuals joined us. But those three didn’t stay past our fall Outflow series and one of the core couples moved to Italy. Someone else joined us and for what seemed like a loooong time we had five people if everyone showed up.
What do you do when you have a great group and you just need more people?
Pray. We kept asking God to send us people.
Invite. This can’t be overemphasized. Everyone needs to be in a vibrant small group. Really. Some of them don’t realize it though! Some do. So you invite lots of people. We and our host invited people at the Vineyard, our friends, and even people in the grocery store. Some people we invited repeatedly. I remember one week when we were having a potluck that Vicki and I figured if everyone came that we invited that week we would have 20 additional people. One came. Eventually, though people started visiting and some of them kept coming back.
Eat. Food is important to small groups for lots of reasons, one is for drawing people. For some reason it’s less threatening and more fun for people to visit when you are having a potluck, cookout or party. So eat often. Last month our group had a potluck. This week we are having a cookout.
Repeat. These principles work but they sometimes take time. Persistence is important. Hang in there!
If you want your small group to grow—and you do, right?—I recommend that you pray, invite, eat, and repeat.
What advice do you have for others on growing a small group?