Note: I posted a 2016 update to this article right here. I’ve made significant improvements to the way I use the small group connection strategy.
While there’s no question that using a church-wide campaign (an alignment) is the most effective way to launch small groups, there are other strategies that can add variety and catch a different group (or interest people at a time in the year when an alignment doesn’t make as much sense). One of the most effective ways of launching groups is a Small Group Connection.
A small group connection is a powerful strategy that does two very good things. First, it can help a large number of unconnected people to take the critical first step of trying a group. Sometimes just taking a “test-drive” is all they need to do. Second, unlike any other strategy, a small group connection helps identify leaders when you didn’t think you had any. If you’re like most of us, the toughest part of small group ministry is finding good leaders. A well planned and executed connection isn’t rocket science, but it will find leaders (sometimes better leaders than you already have). That is huge!
Pulling off a connection is a three step process (Preparation, Execution, and Follow-Up). What are the keys to good preparation? Here they are:
- Promotion: Be sure and begin promoting the connection 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Unconnected people are rarely weekly attendees. If you want to get their attention, you’ll need to promote the event 2 or 3 weeks in a row (in part because they’ll only be there 1 or 2 or the 3 weeks). The best way to promote the connection is to use the sermon to talk about the power of being connected and then refer to the connection event as an action step. It’s great to also give an announcement and feature it on the website and newsletter, but the key to great promotion is to do it in the message. For supercharged promotion, prepare a video of a testimony (or do it live) of someone who has been powerfully impacted by being in a small group. You’ll find the questions to use in the video right here.
- Taking sign-ups: This is one of the rare times when I encourage the use of a sign-up form. Use a distinctive color. Provide a place for people to fill in their name, address, best phone, best email and the kind of groups they’re looking for (this last one is optional, but if allowing them to check interest in couples, singles, men’s or women’s gives you a little info that can help you prepare).
- Getting Attendance at the Connection: Although you’ve taken sign-ups for the connection, you’ll get the best response when you send a letter from the senior pastor acknowledging the sign-up with specifics about the event (day and time, room it is in, childcare instructions, etc.). Following up the letter with an email and then a phone call the day before is not overkill. Friendly persistence will help the largest number attend. My experience has always been that a letter, plus an email, followed by a phone call on the day before and a final announcement on the day of the connection leads to attendance equal to the sign-up. Walk-ins will make up the difference.
- Day and time for a connection: Part of ensuring the best attendance is choosing the best time for the connection. When is the best time for a connection? Right after (or during) a service. Make it convenient. Hold the connection when people are already there! Do it in an easy room to get to. Be sure and provide childcare. Train your childcare team to ask everyone, “Are you staying for the connection?” Use good, clear signage.
- Choose a small group study that is easy to use: There are plenty of good, just-add-water small group studies. Preferably a DVD-driven study. 6 weeks is the right length. Find one on a topic that normal people would like to know more about (You’ll find a listing of potential studies right here).
- Recruit and train plenty of help: One key to a smooth process is to have plenty of people on hand to greet attendees, help them get started, and help them finish well. I’ve found it is a great advantage to have a monitor for each table (I’ll be covering the specifics of what happens at the connection in part two of this series).
The idea of a small group connection may seem like way too much detail. Believe me, I’ve been doing this a long time and I haven’t found anything that does a better job of connecting the people who want to be in a small group and finding leaders when you didn’t know you had any.
Now that you’re prepared you’re ready to learn about executing a small group connection.