By Chris Surratt
One of the most common questions I receive from church leaders is: “How do we make our church a church of small groups instead of a church with small groups?”
For clarification: A church of small groups is typically not program driven. They’ll have the basic ministry options of worship, kids, students, missions, and groups.
Groups aren’t competing with a menu list of options for congregant’s time and attention.
Small groups are the best option for community and discipleship opportunities.
A church with small groups will typically offer a long list of ministry and event options for congregants to be involved in.
Groups may be on the list, but they are considered one of multiple ways to find community and be discipled through the church.
In this last scenario, small groups will lose the battle for time and resources almost every time. People are naturally going to choose the path of least resistance when it comes to growth.
Larger group gatherings and events are easier to get in and out of than a small group of people gathering in a home or classroom on a weekly basis.
So, if you’re hoping to move toward less programming and more connecting, then congratulations! Thanks to the current coronavirus pandemic limitations, almost every church is now, or will be soon, a church of small groups.
At the time of this writing, coronavirus cases are soaring around the United States, and many states are now stepping back in their reopening plans to hopefully flatten the curve again.
Several churches had moved to in-person gatherings again, only to have to move back to online only after outbreaks in their communities.
This will further force churches to re-examine discipleship paths and the role of groups in them. Now that we know small groups have to be the priority going forward, what do we do now?
1. Don’t plan to go back to what was.
I don’t think any of us truly knows what life will be like on the other side of this pandemic, but I bet we can agree that it won’t be the same.
People are learning new habits and rhythms that will change how we offer ministry in the future.
For example, online groups are here to stay. There will be in-person groups in the future, but the last few months have proven that digital community can work when it needs to.
We need to approach our online strategy the same way we do our in-person one.
2. Hire or designate an online groups director.
Now that we have established that online community is here to stay, it will need intentional leadership to flourish.
This is a new frontier for most churches. You don’t have to find someone who has a computer science degree or a digital background, just a strategic thinker who’s willing to learn and adapt.
3. Reexamine all of your current resources for groups.
I’m old enough to remember when compact discs were first introduced. Until then, all of my music was either on cassette tapes or records.
I still recall the moment when I first heard the clean, crisp (some would argue—too crisp) sound of digital audio.
I started immediately switching my audio library from analog to digital. We’re at that moment with our libraries of resources for groups.
All of our training, communication, and studies have to be digital friendly. There will still be in-person opportunities for all of these, but online will become the priority.
4. Update your website.
Connecting people through your website can no longer be an afterthought or an additional connection point. It’s now the first step for a majority of people inside and outside your congregation.
How easy is it to find a group from the first page? Can people get connected to a group with a minimal number of clicks? Are your groups consistently updated so people aren’t trying to join non-existent groups?
5. Recruit different kinds of leaders.
Offering online groups opens the door to potential group leaders who wouldn’t have stepped up before.
Not having to worry about having a host home, providing childcare, traveling to the group location, etc., takes away a lot of barriers for people.
If you have a role description for your group leaders (and I strongly recommend having one), create two versions now for in-person and online groups.
This will help you think through the type of person to pursue as you recruit your new leaders.
Just because our churches may not be gathering in mass every Sunday doesn’t mean we should stop meeting.
We actually have more environments for intentional discipleship now than ever before—now that we all have churches of small groups.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources, a ministry consultant and coach with more than 20 years of experience, and the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group.