Thinking Strategically…about the Fall Season

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Short story?  Most of us think more clearly about how things begin than how they end (or move to the next stage).  The test for this statement?  Think about learning to ride a bike.  Did you stop to think about what you’d do if you needed to stop?  Did you think about what you’d do when you got to the end of your street?  For most of us this is a pretty distant example…but still relevant.

This is also true in small group ministries. Think about it.  When you chose the study you’re using with your groups this September, did you take the time to build a timeline for the fall?  Have you already chosen the next series you’ll promote?  Do you know how you’ll help your groups make it through the holidays?  I’ve found that most of us don’t think that way…and it will make a difference if you do.

I’ve found that there are some important assumptions that will help more groups continue.  A little strategy never hurt either.  First a few assumptions (and each of these could be an individual article!):

  • A six week study is short enough to allow most people to brave putting a toe in the water.  If you challenge them to test-drive a small group and limit their commitment to six weeks, you’ll end up with a larger response.
  • A six week study is long enough to begin to see connective tissue develop between people.  In other words, if they’ll give you six weeks they’ll begin to form a familiarity with each other and even begin to look forward to the meetings.
  • Six weeks is not long enough to form a lasting bond.  However, if you can encourage your newest groups to choose a study to do next you’ll sustain a much higher percentage.
  • The time to begin talking about what’s next is about week 3 or 4 of the first six week study.  Waiting until the end of the six weeks allows two roadblocks to develop: 1. Many groups will end before you have the chance to help them continue. 2. Most groups will have an assertive member that will suggest an inappropriate study or one that is beyond the capability of the leader.  Talking about what’s next in about week 3 or 4 will go a long way toward eliminating these two roadblocks.
  • Group leaders recruited on the strength of “put in the DVD” need a study to do next that is similar to what they’ve just done.  Going from limited preparation necessary (30 minutes to an hour) to one that is two hours of preparation is a huge leap in expectation.
  • Time apart does not make the hearts of new small group members grow fonder.  Until a group is 6 to 9 months old, more than two to three weeks off is very risky.

Now for a little strategy:

  1. Take out a calendar and a piece of blank paper.  Pencil in the following key dates: a. Christmas Eve, b. the proposed starting date for your Pastor’s January message series, c. Starting date for your September small group study, d. End date for your September study.  There may be other dates that are significant, but I’ve found these to be essential for our discussion.
  2. Choose a “next” study for your groups that is similar in kind.  If you’ve launched with DVD, choose another study that has a similar format and a similar amount of leader preparation.  Choose the next study in time to begin promoting it by about week 3 or 4 of the launching study.  It can be promoted easily from the platform by saying “Many of you have been wondering if there is a study to follow _____________.  Here’s what we’re recommending that you do next.”
  3. Understand that bridging the holidays is an essential step for sustaining groups.  It’s too much work to get things going only to allow new groups to meet six times and then break for the holidays too early.  That means that timing your second study to meet at least until the end of November (and maybe have an activity in early December) is a key to helping groups continue.  I try to meet 3 or 4 times before breaking for Christmas.  Then, use the first 2 or 3 weeks of January to complete the study.  Especially where group members have paid for a study guide, knowing they’ve not completed it will encourage them to reconnect early in the new year.

Does this make sense?  Take the initiative to act right away.  In order to take advantage of the first of the year opportunities, you’ll need to begin now.

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