By Chris Surratt
A majority of our closest friends in life have come through our small groups. They have become accountability partners, shoulders to cry on, people to laugh with, and ultimately, family.
That is why it is critical that you put a lot of thought into who you’ll invite. You should also keep in mind that not everyone you invite will end up in the group, and not everyone who comes to the first or second meeting will stick with the group until the end. And that’s okay. The people God sends to your group will be there for a reason and for a season.
The first thing you want to do is something we often do last: pray for the right people for your group. Pray that God will give you wisdom about whom to invite. Pray for those relationships to develop. And pray that the people you invite have open hearts and minds. By starting with prayer, you acknowledge that the formation of this small group is in God’s hands.
After you have given it to God, sit down and make a list of potential people to invite. Start with the people in your inner circle. That list would include family members, neighbors, and coworkers— the people you may already do aspects of life with. After you have that initial list, broaden it to people just outside your inner circle—maybe someone you talk with at church who doesn’t seem to be connected to a small group, or someone you’re friendly with at work.
There may also be a neighbor you wave at as you pass who could be open to an invitation. Most people are longing for deeper community, but don’t know where to start. The invitation to your group may be that first step needed.
Once you have a good-sized list, you will need to think through answers to inevitable questions that will come after the invite.
1. How much time is this going to take?
People already have busy lives with church, work, and family commitments. They will need to know up front how much time committing to this group will add to that full plate. I recommend keeping the group meeting time to two hours or fewer. That time frame will help keep it reasonable to most people.
2. What are we going to do with our children during group meetings?
This is the number-one question from parents, and the number-one barrier to many people committing to a small group. If you are planning to invite married couples with young kids, have a solution for this issue before the group begins. Here are a few ideas I recommend to group leaders:
- Each family makes their own arrangements for childcare.
- The group hires a babysitter, and the families split the cost. If another family lives in the same neighborhood, the children could be at one while the adults meet in the other. One of our small groups used this arrangement for a group season. Note that if this is an official small group offered through the church, be sure to check with church leadership on official policies for vetting babysitters. You may need to obtain background checks on potential childcare workers.
- Work with the student ministry to hire a female babysitter who is raising money for a summer missions trip.
- Work out a co-op relationship with another group that meets on another night.
- Make one night a month a game night where the kids are invited to take part.
- Involve the older kids into the discussion and life of the group. My kids have been active members of our groups through the years.
- Rotate childcare among the members of the group, putting two non-related adults in charge of babysitting for a given night, and rotating each week.
3. Will there be homework?
This question also speaks to the busyness issue. Potential group members will need to know what extra time this commitment will add on top of the weekly group meeting time. I recommend choosing a study that requires little-to-no homework. Book studies are difficult for most people to handle because of the reading time involved. A well-designed study will eliminate the need for homework, but offer extra Bible study and questions if desired.
4. Am I going to have to talk during meetings?
Extroverts will have no problem jumping right into the discussion, but introverts like me may take a little longer to feel comfortable enough to open up to the group. Be ready to reassure people that you will not force them to talk until they are comfortable. Good, open-ended icebreaker questions at the beginning of the discussion time can help everyone feel more at ease with sharing.
5. Will I have to pray out loud?
This is a big deal for many people, especially if you are planning on inviting seekers or new Christians. I will never call on someone to pray aloud in the group unless I am sure they are ready for it.
6. Who else will be in the group?
Be ready to share the demographics of the group in the invitation or advertisement. Most people want to be in community with other people in the same life-stage. If this group is specifically for young married couples, make that clear from the beginning.
7. How much do I have to know about the Bible?
The people you will invite are in different stages on their spiritual journey. Keeping that in mind, the study you choose should be conversational and not filled with a lot of insider Christian language. You want something that challenges mature believers but is accessible to baby Christians.
8. How many weeks or months is the group going to last?
Be up front with the expectation for the longevity of the commitment. Most people will not be ready to jump into a long-term commitment yet. A 6- to 12-week run with a short break before the next study will give them the peace of mind to try the group waters first before committing long term.
9. If I don’t like it, can I leave without people being angry with me?
It’s a good idea to start the first week with something informal—like a dinner at a restaurant—to give potential group members the opportunity to test the group out before the study begins.
10. What are we going to do during meetings?
I was very unsure of what a small group did before I joined one. I imagined all kinds of weird things, from confessing your gravest sin during the first meeting, to everyone group hugging at the end. Give potential group members a clear picture of what will take place each week in your invitation. (And try your best not to make it too weird!)
Make the Ask
After you have made a list of potential invitees and come up with answers to the inevitable questions, it’s time to make the ask. If the idea of being in a small group is completely foreign to someone, it will take a little bit of time and convincing before they are sitting in your living room.
An in-person invitation is always best. Give the person a call or shoot them an email to ask if you can talk for a few minutes at church or over coffee.
During your meeting, start with the “why” for your small group. It will go something like this: “We are starting this small group for young married couples who want to go deeper in God’s Word and learn how to navigate life together. We have prayed about who should be in the group, and we feel you and your husband would be a great addition.”
Follow this invitation up with the logistics of the group and answer any questions they might have.
Don’t expect or even ask for a commitment on the spot. If they decide to commit, that’s great! But most people will need time to think and pray about it before deciding.
They may also need to check in with their spouse before giving an answer. Let them know you will check back in a week, either in person or by a phone call. If they decide that this is not the best time to be in a small group, that’s okay. Tell them you will keep them in mind for future opportunities to join the group. I have invited people several times to my groups before they joined.
The right season of life or circumstance will come along for them to need the community you are offering through your group. Don’t give up!
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.