Many churches have some sort of small group structure within their church. Whether they’re called small groups, community groups, life groups, or missional communities (referred to as small groups for the rest of this article), there is one thread that holds them together: they are small communities within your church where people can build relationships, deepen their understanding of the Scriptures, and missionally live together.
Because many churches in the Western world are larger than a typical house church in first-century Rome, small groups are a way to allow for deeper relationships and community to form outside of your larger weekend service. The phrase “one another” appears roughly 100 times in the New Testament, with approximately 59 of them being specific commands teaching us how to (and how not to) relate to one another. Things like:
- Carrying one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Praying for one another (Col. 1:3)
- Confessing sin to one another (James 5:16)
- Celebrating with one another (Rom. 12:15)
- Forgiving one another (Col. 3:13)
- Teaching one another (Col. 3:16)
However, for these “one another’s” to happen, we must be in relationships to live them out. It’s really easy to say we want to be in a community where forgiveness and reconciliation take place, but it’s a lot harder when you are the one who has to do it. Small groups create a space where we can embody the commands of Jesus—both the easy commands and the hard ones.
Here are four practical tips to help organize small groups for success.
1. Ensure all your groups are running the same play.
While people in your church may have certain types of gatherings for groups they would like to host, it sends a confusing message if different groups function differently. For example, at our church, New City Church, all our community groups are sermon-based and follow a similar model. If someone wants to lead a Bible study or some other type of group, we certainly allow for that, but we don’t consider that a small group. When people sign up to join a small group, we only connect them with groups functioning as a typical small group at New City.
You can still tell people about other options your church might offer but don’t lump them in with your typical group structure. It’s much easier to talk about and move people into small groups when you can easily articulate what a small group is and how it works at your church.
2. Ensure your leadership is in a small group.
If your church prioritizes small group ministry, but you have key leaders not in small groups, it’s apparent they aren’t that important after all. If small groups are an integral part of your church, then your pastors, elders, and leaders should participate. You cannot have a thriving group ministry without buy-in from those who say groups are important.Small groups create a space where we can embody the commands of Jesus. Click To Tweet
3. Provide a curriculum, Bible study, or leader guide for your group leaders.
Group leaders already give much time and energy to run and lead (and often host) their group. An easy way to provide direction and support is to give your leaders what they need to lead their discussion.
At New City, we send out a small group leader guide each week to all our leaders. This guide aids them in guiding group discussion and offers direction for the conversation. Of course, our leaders can use and adapt the guide as needed. It’s not a problem if they don’t get through all the questions or if they have some questions of their own for the group, but because we provide a guide, they’re not left to come up with something from scratch.
In your church, you likely have capable people who would do a great job leading a group, but the thought of having to produce their own Bible study every week is holding them back. By providing a curriculum, you may find more people are willing to lead.
4. Do a few small group pushes throughout the year.
While people may have the option to sign up for a small group at any time, it’s helpful to have some intentional small group pushes every year. This allows you to discuss the specifics of groups and why they matter to your church. If you take 3–4 consecutive weeks to push your groups during announcements, include them in the sermon, or talk about them in other avenues of your church, you’ll likely have a higher rate of getting people not currently in a group to sign up for one.
Small groups can be an important and encouraging part of your church’s ministry plan. If small groups at your church aren’t producing the desired results, compare how your church is doing against these four suggestions and adjust accordingly. Don’t give up—your efforts are worth it to see people thriving in community together.