New small groups are like babies. They need certain things in order to survive. There are also simple things you can look for to determine their level of health.
Human babies are evaluated on five simple criteria on a scale from 0 to 2 to determine health. Appearance (skin color), Pulse (heart rate), Grimace (reflex irritability, Activity (muscle tone), and Respiration (breathing). Often called an APGAR test for short. Every baby is given the test within minutes of birth. Why? The beginning moments in a baby’s life are fragile and every precaution is taken to ensure that they get what they need.
Your baby groups have survival needs to. Here are five simple criteria you can use to determine the health of your baby groups:
BEFORE WE GO ANY FURTHER: My recommendation is that you develop a quick way of evaluating your new groups based on each of the five criteria. Don’t make it complicated. A simple checklist will do. Then you’ll have an easy way of paying attention to vital signs.
NOW, BACK TO THE ARTICLE:
The first criterion has to do with the qualities of the leader. Many times the acronym F.A.T. is used to evaluate this essential piece. Are they faithful? As I often say, launching a new small group is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Feels like a sprint in the first hundred yards. That’s only the start of the race. What happens 6 to 12 weeks into the life of a new group is important, but it’s only the start. Is the new leader faithful to do the minimum things that must be done?
Next, are they available? It’s one thing to commit to opening your home for six weeks. It’s another thing to actually follow through and call a hurting group member the next day. Part of what makes a healthy small group is that it is more than a 90 minute experience. It’s becoming part of a body. That requires availability.
Last, are they teachable? It will not be unusual for an expert in small group leadership to offer to lead a group. Teachability is not a nice extra thing to have. The absence of teachability should scream code blue.
Admittedly, how leaders are selected in your church will determine how much is already known. For example, when you’ve identified a new leader based on an existing relationship, such as an apprentice, you’ll already know them well. On the other hand, when you’ve taken volunteers, as in the HOST method, or the group has chosen their own leader, as in the Connection method, you may only have the beginnings of a relationship with them. Evaluating each of your leaders on this criterion, even in their first few weeks, will help you ensure the health of your newest groups.
A second very important criterion is a meaningful connection with a coach or a mentor. Meaningful is the key. An “accounting” approach is not the idea. Simply assigning a “coach” to a “leader” will not do the trick. Meaning is not immediate, but with the right approach can be developed in most cases.
A meaningful connection between coach and leader has proven to be both a very difficult thing to ensure and an essential ingredient of survival for most new groups. “Difficult to ensure” because it often requires a kind of arbitrary assignment (you have three coaches and 15 new groups so you sort of “deal out” five group leaders to each coach). That only occasionally leads to meaningful connection. “Essential ingredient” because without a coach or a mentor you’re asking the new leader to survive based only on what the group provides in a kind of mutual care format (a kind of “we all care for each” arrangement).
Can a new group survive without a meaningful connection with a coach or mentor? Some do, but it requires a much higher degree of self-reliance on the part of the leader, making it much less likely that you’ll find the leaders you need. You can recruit leaders much more broadly if you’re able to deliver this kind of coaching.
A third criterion has to do with the size of the group. While there isn’t any absolute formula (I’ve seen some great groups with 3 or 4 men and some really vital groups with as many as 16 to 20), it’s tough for many groups to survive without 8 to 10 active members. For a group to feel like a group, they need to be able to meet even if the Smiths are out of town. If you’ve got two or three couples it only takes one unforeseen circumstance to keep the group from meeting. If you’ve got eight to ten people, a couple folks can miss and the meeting goes right on as planned.
A fourth criterion for baby group survival is that their next curriculum has been chosen and that it is similar in kind. This may seem to be a trivial thing, but don’t leave it to chance. Start talking about what’s next no later than week four of the initial curriculum. Let your coaching solution get the word to your new leaders. The same week have your Senior Pastor mention the next curriculum from the pulpit if possible.
Why not let the group decide? New groups can wait a few more weeks before they add the pressure of working through which study gets chosen and which doesn’t.
It’s also very important to make sure that the next study is “similar in kind” to the launching study. Groups that attempt to go straight from a “just-add-water” DVD-driven curriculum to a study that requires more leader preparation will quickly find themselves in over their heads. Better to be more directive in the infant stage to ensure survival.
The fifth criterion is an understanding of the upcoming calendar. A fast approaching natural barrier to community (like summer vacation or the Thanksgiving/Christmas, New Year’s holidays) can be a very difficult challenge for new groups. Help your newest groups make it through these natural barriers by being proactive. A Christmas party or a summertime strategy that incorporates a fun get-together every few weeks can make a real difference in the health and viability of new groups.
What to do now? Pull out your list of new small groups and make a few notes on each one based on these five criteria. How do they look? What might you need to do in order to help them make it through their infant stage? Not sure? A pair of fresh eyes often makes a huge difference. You can schedule a coaching call right here.