GroupLife Philosophy: Test Drive First

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“What if I’ve got a coach that really isn’t a good fit for the job?”  That was one of the questions I was asked in a recent survey here at MarkHowellLive.  Another question was, “We need more leaders!  How can I encourage more of our congregation to step up and lead a group?”

I want to suggest that the answers to these two questions are actually related.  Might seem strange…but follow along.

I think a key to effective small group ministry is building a culture of test drive first.  Here’s how it works for members, leaders and coaches.

Members: Be sure that you’re marketing groups as a test drive as opposed to a lifelong commitment.  For example, “In the upcoming message series there will be a group curriculum that goes along with what we’re learning on Sunday.  If you’re not in a small group, we want to invite you to take a test drive.  It’s a six week commitment.  We have groups meeting all over the place.  And you’re invited!  Just fill out the…”

The Small Group Connection strategy is another way to encourage people to try a group.  It’s an event that launches 6 week test drives.  “Feel like a face in the crowd?  Join us at the next Small Group Connection.  Give us one hour.  We’ll help you get connected!”

The key to the concept is to make it okay to only take a baby step.  Lyman Coleman recognized long ago that 6 weeks is short enough to encourage people to try a group and long enough to allow the good stuff of community to begin to have an impact (a very loose paraphrase).

Leaders/Hosts: Much like encouraging people to simply try a group, it is possible to implement a strategy that helps more people try leading a group.  Here are two that work well:

  • The HOST strategy invites members (and attendees) of the congregation who have a Heart for unconnected people to Open their home for 6 weeks, Serve a few refreshments, and Tell a few of their friends.  It’s a test drive!  There’s no commitment beyond the 6 weeks (although you hope it’s a great experience and they want to continue).
  • Invite existing groups to consider “taking a small group vacation” and instead of meeting together for the upcoming church-wide campaign, pair up with another couple or a few singles and host a new group.  A group of 12 can help launch 3 groups!  There’s no commitment beyond the 6 weeks (although you hope that many of them have such a good experience they want to continue).  It’s a test drive!

Coaches: An important aspect of good recruiting is to give people an opportunity to do the function before you ask them for a formal commitment.  Sometimes this is expressed as function before form.  I’ve learned the value of getting to know prospective coaches informally, sizing up what I perceive as the right kind of character and influence, and then inviting them to “help me take care of these 2 new leaders for the next 8 weeks.”

Notice…I’m not calling them a coach.  There’s no job description.  There’s no real training.  And there’s no commitment beyond the 8 weeks.  To them, it’s an opportunity to serve.  To the leader they’re helping, it’s invaluable.  To me, it’s an opportunity to assess their potential.  If they’re really not a good fit it’s easy to simply thank them for their help and move on.  If they do what I’ve asked them to do and they enjoy it (both elements are critical), I’ll invite them to meet with me and then I’ll go over the job description of a coach.

Test Drive First

Can you see how a philosophy of test drive first makes a difference?  I want to encourage you to evaluate each of these aspects in your ministry.  I know it will make a difference in the response you’re getting.

If you haven’t taken my survey you can do that right here.

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