I had lunch yesterday with a couple new friends from another church in town. We ended up having a wide ranging conversation about the rationale or underlying philosophy that makes certain small group ministry decisions obvious. Their answers to my battery of questions led to several observations about best practices. Sometimes you can see things you've never seen before when you look at situations from a new perspective.
Hopefully, they were helped by my observations and my perspective.
See if our conversation might help you also:
"Assigning" new people interested in joining a group to existing groups
I learned that while they were also starting many new groups, they were simply "assigning" many people who indicated they wanted to be in a group to an existing group. This is a bad idea 90% (or more) of the time! Why? It is a bad idea for the simple reason that once a group has been meeting longer than about 3 or 4 months, it becomes increasingly more difficult for all but the most brazen extroverts (or friends of a group member) to break through the toughening membrane and actually connect with the group.
The only exception is just after you've formed new groups. If within two or three weeks you assign stragglers to brand new groups it will often result in a successful effort.
Focus on launching new groups. Train existing leaders to "fish" for themselves. Assigning new members to existing groups is rarely effective. The easiest way to connect the largest number of people is to focus on launching new groups. See also, Top 10 Ways to Launch New Groups and How to Launch New Groups with a Small Group Connection.
"Matchmaking" to form new groups
I learned that one of the primary ways they were starting new groups was by matchmaking unconnected people with a newly approved leader. If you've been reading here long, you already know that I think that is rarely effective enough to justify the time it takes to do it.
If you're new to my philosophy, follow me on this for a moment. When you spend your time doing something, it always means you cannot spend your time on something else. With me? Matchmaking as a strategy forces you (or someone you've entrusted) to spend time on that instead of something else. If at the end of the week or the end of the month you consistently don't have time to do the most important things (identify, recruit and develop coaches, collaborate with your senior pastor to start new groups, etc.), the time you are spending matchmaking is a poor investment.
Matchmaking is almost always a bad idea. With very few exceptions, build a process that sends all unconnected people to a connecting event (small group connection, GroupLink, etc.) that forms and launches new groups. See also, 5 Stupid Things Small Group Pastors Need to Stop Doing.
Losing focus on the true number of unconnected people
One of their aha moments was learned several years ago that over a 30 month period their weekend attendance had grown dramatically, but they'd had a much larger total number of people visit their church. Their takeaway? "We need to do a much better job of connecting new attenders to groups."
While that was an excellent takeaway, they didn't know their current total numbers. I like to use Easter adult worship attendance (or Christmas Eve adult worship attendance) as a basic way of understanding the true number of unconnected people. At the same time, a simple database query can yield a very important insight. For example, during a 15 month period at Canyon Ridge over 38,000 records in our database were updated (new givers, attended a class, signed up for a group, children checked in, etc.). During this same period our Easter adult worship attendance was around 11,000 (twice our average adult worship attendance).
When you maintain awareness of the true number of unconnected people, you evaluate situations through a different lens. For example, strategies that adequately connect 3 adults per week interested in joining a group might be seen as inadequate once you learn that you are sending 22 letters to first-time attenders every month. Because unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again, you may need to evaluate and adjust your strategy to fit the true number of unconnected people.
Maintain awareness of the true number of unconnected people. This should help you develop an appropriate sense of urgency that will see the status quo for what it really is. See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.
Image by Mads Bodker