Clue #1 When Designing Your Small Group System

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Can I show you what I think ought to be your first clue when designing the right small group system or strategy for your church?

This might surprise you, but I really do believe there is a best system for you. How can you figure out what is best? I have three clues. Here's the first one.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, the first thing you need is an accurate understanding of how many adults are already connected and how many are unconnected.

The first thing you need is an accurate understanding

Some will argue that before you need that info you need to clarify what a win is for your small group ministry. They have an argument. They may be right. But I think this comes first.

If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, the first thing you need is an understanding of how many adults are already connected and how many are unconnected. Share on X

Here's how I go about it:

Step One: Figure out the adult attendance at your last Easter or Christmas Eve service(s). We're not looking for your average weekend adult attendance. We're looking intentionally at your holiday attendance because it is almost always a better indication of your crowd number. The crowd indicates the number of people who consider your church to be their church.

This is a really big understanding. While there are some churches that have almost zero appreciable difference in their Easter and regular attendance...they're not the norm. There is normally a bump of 15 to 25% in adult attendance. The size of your crowd is what makes that happen. Some churches can have a bump as high as 30 to 50% on Easter. The higher your outreach element, the higher the bump.

Important: I draw a circle and write down the Easter number (see the diagram above).

Step Two: The second thing I do is draw a square to represent the number of people at your church who are truly connected. For me, that is determined by a couple factors and neither of them are easily measured (read: you'll have to guesstimate this number). They are truly connected when the meet these two factors:

  • First, if something happens to them (or a member of their family), someone else hears about it within 24-48 hours without anyone calling the church (in other words, they lose their job, their marriage falls apart, a child is sick, etc.). We're not talking gossip. We're talking connection. Obviously, they'd need to pretty connected to have this happen. Groups that meet twice a month rarely have this level of connection. Groups that meet weekly but don't connect offline rarely have this level of connection. How many of your adults do you think fit inside the square?
  • Second, there is someone regularly building into them from a spiritual standpoint and it's not the pastor. Could be a group leader or member. Might be a ministry team leader or member. But there is someone involved enough in their life to catch them when they're growing (I saw the way you encouraged Johnny today) or challenge them when they're slipping (I overheard you talking with your wife and I know you're working on being kind). How many of your adults have that second factor going for them?

Important: Write that number inside the square.

Step Three: There are a number of questions that must be asked once you see these numbers for yourself.

  • When you subtract the number in the square from the number in the circle...what do you come up with? That's the real unconnected number.  Some churches want to take their average adult weekend attendance and subtract the number of adults in groups to come up with the percentage connected. Don't fall for that. That's a fake number.
  • If you divide that number by 10, what do you come up with? That's the number of groups you need to create to connect the unconnected today.
  • Where will you find enough leaders to care for the number of unconnected people you've got? This tells you whether your current system of leader identification and qualification is viable.

Great diagram isn't it? Of raises a lot of questions. What are the answers?  Clue #2 will help with that. Click here to read about the second clue.

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

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  1. Doug Cowburn on February 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks for this Mark, great post. We were thinking % of people connected was higher because we weren’t looking at the “crowd” number.

  2. Anonymous on February 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Doug. You can see how in some churches (yours being a great example), your crowd number is a really big factor in evaluating the effectiveness of your connection strategy. If you believe that life-change happens best in groups…connecting the crowd is a high, high priority.

  3. JohnBarbian on February 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Great Blog Mark. Really made me think about who we consider the “crowd”. In my experience, we (the church in general) use the bigger number to determine our “crowd” when submitting numbers to denominations or outreach magazine, but use the average weekend numbers when reporting our percentage serving and in life groups. The real question is, if small groups are most effective then why do we disproportionally put all of our resources into the big room events?

  4. Anonymous on February 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    This is a great question John. I think it has to do with two significant and seemingly contradictory sociological realities. #1, although it’s easier to say, “come over to my house for a cookout,” most people rarely invite unchurched friends over. #2, it still feels fairly safe to drop in to a thriving church service where I can be anonymous. Since #2 is still true, and since #1 is so infrequently practiced…it makes sense to put resources in the weekend service budget.


  5. Todd Engstrom on February 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Thanks for this post…it’s really helpful material and insightful thoughts on doing effective connection to groups! Keep up the good work!

  6. Anonymous on February 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Todd! Will need to get some more input from you about how Austin Stone will provide connection opportunities for the crowd!


  7. Donnell Wyche on February 19, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Mark, thanks for the post. I happened upon the post because I’m working on my church software tool ( and I’m trying to find a consistent way to measure and compare small group (and ministry) participation rates.

    One of the challenges with your measurement is in my experience it’s almost impossible to get our Guests to participate in small groups. It seems like there are several steps that Guests (the main part of the crowd) need to take before they are willing to try out a small group, especially folks who have no church background at all. 65% of our Guests have no church affiliation or background. So, we created and launched several Community Life Groups that are barrier free and follow the sermon and meet at the church. Using these groups, we were able to move about 45 new individuals (with no prior small group activity) into small groups representing about 10% of weekend adult attendance.

    What are your thoughts on focusing instead on the folks who are already “connected” but aren’t participating in a small group? Especially, if you have a measurement that allows you identify these “connected” folks? We measure engagement as “giving plus one”. We decided on “giving plus one” else because it gave us a consistent way to check on engagement and folks in our community aren’t easily parted with their cash, so that tells us that they are invested. (Giving plus one is giving, plus measured participation in a ministry, class or small group.) Using Community Center for Churches, the church software tool I created, we were able to determine the giving plus one rate and are now working on a way to reach out to those individuals (families) who aren’t participating in a small group and encouraging them to do so. We are also working on new types of groups to help enfold new people and empower new leaders.

    Anyway, interested in your thoughts.

  8. Anonymous on February 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Donnell! Welcome to the conversation! You’re on to a good idea or two…but I would challenge your assumption that “guests” make up the main part of the crowd. On Tuesday I’ll be posting the second article in this series and it will provide a useful definition of crowd, congregation, committed and core (the four segments of your overall attendance). You should know that I define the “crowd” as being folks who are infrequent attendees, but if asked, they’ll largely identify your church as their church. Not really thinking guests in the sense that this is their first time, although there will be some that fit that description. Further, I’d include in the crowd category everyone from a once or twice a year attendee to a once a quarter or month attendee. They like your church, they like some of your programs, they like your pastor, and when they go to church…they go to yours.

    By the way, this post is really not about where to focus. Tuesday’s post will detail a concept I think of as “providing next steps for every attendee and first steps for their friends.” It sounds like you are thinking along those lines with your Community Life Group strategy.

    Hope you come back and join us again! You can subscribe to the blog right here:


  9. Anonymous on February 22, 2011 at 4:26 am

    Good post, great start. That is indeed a staggering & sobering set of figures these diagrams come up with 😉

  10. Anonymous on February 24, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Thanks Danny!

  11. Greg Gillum on March 30, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Would love to see you install a “print” feature on your blogs – great ideas!!

  12. Anonymous on March 30, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks Greg! I’ll check into it.


  13. Grams Mcgugan on October 7, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Well known are. The unconnected. Sheep. ..that have. Such a vicious. BIG BITE ..but then. We have. …our LEADERS …THE GOATS….”AMBITION..BUTTING”..through ….To Their … HINGE POSITIONS .. Church. Is. Always about. …temperature. Control..for
    THE HEART …, THE FRUIT…THE. SEED FAITH … The need to be Saved , washed , dressed for battle , filled and TESTIFY. Then.ARISE & GO TELL … DON’T SIT IN !

  14. markchowell on October 7, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I have to say I am confused, Grams. Not sure I understand what you are saying or why you’ve commented on my article with this poem.