by Robert Noland
Whether you feel the need for a pro-active push to get your group to the next level or you are battling some apathy and need a line of defense to pull them out, here are seven practical helps for strengthening your group.
Many small groups, especially those who meet solely based on the church’s programming schedule, find themselves only gathering for the studies. Instead, plan a fun outing apart from normal routine.
A picnic, bowling, mini-golf, fishing, hike, or some other recreational activity that centers around relaxation, fellowship, and having fun together can refresh and revitalize any group. A good practice would be to plan these events at least once a quarter.
Planning a gathering centered only around hanging out at someone’s home or a sit-down meal together can remind everyone there are valid, authentic relationships inside the group.
Visiting and sharing with no set agenda can be just as spiritually motivating as watching a DVD teaching series together. These meetings can also help some of your “weak link” members to connect on a relational level.
Invite the group to choose a week, a day, or even just a single meal that will be skipped for the purpose of praying for the members of your group. Encourage any that would like to gather together to pray as well.
Nothing creates intimacy among brothers and sisters in Christ quite like interceding together. Encourage members to pray for personal revival and a fresh commitment to Christ and the group. Also invite them to pray for the church.
Encourage individual members or couples to get together outside the corporate group meetings for coffee, lunch, or other times for strengthening individual relationships. If you have a member or couple that tends to be disengaged in the meetings, ask other members to invite them for individual time outside the group.
This can often help someone feel more confident with the entire group when they get closer to the members. Some personality types just won’t engage any other way.
If your group is made up of couples with children, periodically have gatherings for the entire family. Getting to know each other’s children is just as important as getting to know the adults.
Plan activities where adults and children get involved and engage, so it’s not just the kids going off to play while parents visit. Use these times to get to know each child and better understand everyone’s family dynamics.
For an on-going small group, open communication with the leader is very important. Offer some form of feedback if there are any concerns that develop about the group dynamic, someone in the group, or even disagreements on doctrine or belief.
Often times, if someone gets uncomfortable with a person or a situation, they will just stop coming rather than create a conflict. If a member comes to you with a concern, always hear the person out and don’t be defensive or argumentative.
As the leader, you want the reputation of integrity and fairness. A good practice would be to periodically open up dialogue in the group to ask everyone how they feel the group is growing and then invite any concerns to be voiced corporately, or to you in private.
If we in the church can’t “speak the truth in love,” as Paul stated, then where can we? The important point here is to invite and receive honest feedback to continually improve and grow your group.
Many small groups today meet in six-week intervals with breaks, changing out studies or even members, so starts, stops, and change stay constant. If your group is ongoing, clear beginnings with strong finishes are important to keep the group fresh.
Unusually long, month-upon-month studies can wear people out on some subjects, so finding a good end point in the right timing is crucial. Also taking a week off before beginning a new study can keep things fresh.
Consistency is vital, but breaks are just as important. For a strong, growing group, whether meeting for three months or three years, you want solid starts and strong finishes.
What do you do to help keep your groups strong? And no, it doesn’t have to begin with an “F.”
Robert Noland has been in Christian ministry for more than 30 years. He’s a writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.