5 Moves that Will Help Your Small Group Ministry Get Unstuck

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We are just stuck!  We’ve been at this level for over 2 years (or 5 years).  We can’t seem to break out of this rut.  We add 10 new groups and lose 12.  We finally recruit enough coaches to care for new leaders only to have them drop out after one semester.  Our small group ministry is just stuck!

“Our small group ministry is stuck” is one of the most common concerns I hear from small group pastors and senior pastors about small group ministry.  “How can we get unstuck?” is definitely one of the most common questions.

There are a number of moves you can make that will help get your small group ministry get unstuck.  None of these moves are painless or easy, but all of them will pay off.  The movement they bring will be worth the pain.

5 moves that will help your small group ministry get unstuck: 

  1. Evaluate the suitability of your current system or strategy.  Although it is true that there are no problem-free solutions (systems, models or strategies), underestimating the problems that come with the system you’ve chosen is often the root of the issue.  See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Prioritize launching new groups over adding new members to existing groups.  It may seem to be a small thing, but this is actually a very powerful move.  Train existing group leaders to find new members and fill their own groups.  Focus your energy on launching new groups.  See also, Critical Decision: Add Members to Existing Groups vs Start New Groups?
  3. Plan to sustain new groups into their 3rd study.  This is a very important move.  Launching new groups takes a lot of energy.  Launching new groups without doing the work necessary to sustain them is irresponsible and poor stewardship.  It is also a very common reason that many small group ministries are stuck.  If you want to make this move, you’ll choose the right next curriculum, you’ll assign a great coach out of the gate, and you’ll talk it up from the stage.  See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.
  4. Evaluate and upgrade your coaching structure.  With few exceptions, most of the complaining that coaching does not work is done by pastors who have settled for available and willing instead of holding out for shaped and called.  If you want the members of your groups to have a good experience (i.e., if you want them to know they are loved, known, cared for, held accountable, forgiven, etc.), you must acknowledge that the leader must have that experience first.  Unless you have a lot of staff members or very few groups, you cannot provide that experience for your leaders.  You will have to provide it through a coaching structure (making an appropriate span of care possible).  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System and 20 Frequently Asked Questions about Small Group Coaching.
  5. Trim your belonging and becoming menu.  Actions speak louder than words.  If you want to connect more people in groups, you must make joining a group an easy and obvious step.  Choices and options don’t make it easier to take next steps.  Choices and options make next steps harder.  Narrowing the focus to a single best step is a powerful move.  You may not be able to drastically eliminate all choices and options in one move, but you can reshape which are promoted (announcements, mentions, website, bulletins, etc.).  In addition, you may not be able to make sweeping changes in one move but you can begin to trim options (even if it is eliminating the weakest link this year).  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. drairwolf1 on November 14, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Thanks for what you share. I’ve been reading a lot, especially about the small group connection. I think one reason our groups are stuck is we live in an area with smaller houses (not a lot of room for kids), with people who don’t make a lot of extra money (for babysitting). We are also a church FILLED with families with young kids. I’m afraid the stress of these working together is going to limit our group growth and burn our group leaders out. Have you ever heard of churches holding groups where husbands meet one week and wives meet the other? I wrote a post about our area here: http://refuelblog.com/2014/10/28/how-size-matters-part-2-house-size/

    Also, a lot of the articles I’ve read talk about 6-12 week groups. If a group continues for a year, what do they do after that 12 week study? It’s one puzzle piece I can’t figure out from all the articles I’ve read. (Very helpful articles!! Thanks!)

  2. markchowell on November 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Thanks for jumping in here! Two other childcare alternatives you might want to consider is encouraging groups to form partnerships with other groups (and watch each others’ kids) or using another house within their own group for childcare (and taking turns watching the kids). I’ve seen both work in the situations you mention (see my post, What to Do About Childcare? http://www.markhowelllive.com/what-to-do-about-childcare/

    I have seen couples groups practice two weeks together and one week each for the husbands and wives. Seems to work well. I’ve found it very beneficial to coach leaders to subgroup for discussion even on weeks where you are together as a group. As an alternative to better manage childcare, I’ve not seen it, but lots of things are worth trying.

    Couple things on your final question. First, we’ve found that a six week study to launch is just about ideal. Any shorter and it doesn’t give them enough time to being to form relational glue they need. Any longer and unconnected people have a built-in reluctance to committing. Second, I’ve found it very helpful to provide a follow up curriculum for new groups (which carries them from the first study to the second). I also provide a recommended list of all of the groups in my system (See Here’s a Sample Recommended List, http://www.markhowelllive.com/heres-a-sample-recommended-study-list/).

    Glad you’re finding my blog helpful!


  3. drairwolf1 on November 15, 2014 at 5:14 am

    One other question, how often do you find churches holding a “Connection Event” to get new people into groups? Do you try to hold one 3-4 times a year or every 6-9 weeks? Just curious. I really think we’re going to try one this coming Jan.

    Thanks for the thoughts on babysitting. I had not thought of some of those options before. http://www.refuelblog.com

  4. markchowell on November 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Might depend on the size of your church and the number of sign-ups you can produce for your connection event. My preference is to focus your connecting efforts during the best three times a year and maximize the launch of healthy groups. You might take a look at my article, 5 Keys to Launching Groups Year Round http://www.markhowelllive.com/5-keys-to-launching-small-groups-year-round/