Top 10 Ideas to Help You Build a Thriving Small Group Ministry Post-COVID

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I hope you already realize that building a thriving small group ministry in 2021 will require some new ideas.

Doing the same things you did in 2019 (in the way you did them), will certainly produce a different (and probably lesser) outcome.

I like this quote from Peter Drucker:

"The enterprise that does not innovate ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present, the decline will be fast."

The enterprise that does not innovate ages and declines. And in a period of rapid change such as the present, the decline will be fast. —Peter Drucker Click To Tweet

Can you see why I might like that quote?

The speed of change has been increasing rapidly every year for the past decade.

An amazing amount of change happened in less than a year in 2020.

Drucker said innovation is a life or death proposition in a period of rapid change.

Can you see the need to try something different in 2021?

10 ideas to help you build a thriving small group ministry post-COVID:

1. Start thinking about a church-wide campaign in the fall of 2021.

With churches everywhere regathering, now is the time to begin thinking about what will reunite your congregation (and crowd). The right church-wide campaign could provide a common goal, a unifying theme, that will get everyone on the same page.

See also, How to Maximize Your Church-Wide Campaign.

2. “If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with…”

If you haven’t yet tried Saddleback’s latest innovation, this year is the perfect time to test it. The HOST strategy was a remarkable 2002 innovation created by Brett Eastman and Saddleback’s small group team at Rick Warren’s insistence that they “add a zero” to their goal. Their latest iteration (“If you have a couple friends you’d like to do the study with”) has dramatically improved the outcome.

See also, Saddleback Has Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.

3. Make multiple studies available for outreach oriented "groups."

Some studies and books are cross-cultural in nature. That is, the topic is very friendly to unchurched friends, neighbors, and co-workers and an invite to "do the study with me" or "read the book with me" would be welcomed. For example, a well-written book on parenting might be just the thing to connect with other parents of young children. Or how about featuring a study like Parenting for the 21st Century by Andy Stanley?

A few minutes looking at the available titles on RightNow Media or North Point's Anthology will give you plenty to choose from. Or spend a little time building a list of timely books to read with a couple friends. Start your list with a titles like The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer or Winning the War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel?

With everything going on in 2021 there may be no better time than right now to resource connection with friends, neighbors and co-workers.

4. Auditorium section leaders to warm up your weekend service.

If the safety and anonymity of your auditorium is a mixed blessing (i.e., allowing less extroverted or newer attendees to ease into your weekend experience), what would happen if a team of relationally gifted volunteers began to own sections of your auditorium. And what if their primary mission was to meet and get to know the people who habitually sit in that section with the ultimate aim of offering each person they meet a next step? Willow Creek has been using this strategy for several years (and I hope to have an interview with them soon about it).

5. Shorten the pathway to connection.

In 2019 most engagement experts were teaching a baby step out of the auditorium followed by a "next steps" class or experience designed to showcase a few of the most common engagement next steps (i.e., baptism, join a group, join a team). In 2021, it may be helpful to shorten the pathway to connection by giving baby step attendees a way to connect to a short term group as an immediate point of engagement.

6. On-campus studies (that lead to off-campus groups).

There are many people who attend our churches for whom simply attending the weekend service has required great courage and willpower. What is so familiar and normal to most of us is actually uncharted territory for a generation of people for whom even attending a church is a new experience. When we ask them to leave the safety and anonymity of the auditorium and join a small group that meets at a stranger’s house, we should not miss the fact that we are asking them to take an even more courageous and daring step into the unknown. On the flip side, what if you simply chose a study that same kind of person would find interesting and offered it on-campus at a convenient time? And what if the seating was at round tables with 6 to 8 other unconnected people? And what if about 4 weeks into a 6 week study you suggested that if they were enjoying the company of the people at their tables they may want to consider continuing to meet somewhere else? This is the essence of a strategy we’ve been using for a couple years.

See also, Take Advantage of This Short-Term On-Campus Strategy.

7. Intentionally designed community incursions.

What if you identified 2 or 3 no-brainer opportunities for church members to spend time with the people who live on their street and in their neighborhood? For example, what if instead of (or in addition to) holding your annual Harvest Festival or Trunk-or-Treat you equipped your members to create fun and inviting outposts on their driveways? Or what if instead of having a movie night in your auditorium or fellowship hall, you equipped your members to host block party movie nights on their cul-de-sacs?

See also, Connect with Neighbors This Fall: Top 10 Ideas for Small Groups.

8. Launch a neighboring initiative or pilot.

This is more than a twist on #4. The Art of Neighboring  is a great book we all ought to be reading. Written by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring was prompted by a joint church movement developed in Denver in response to a comment made by Arvada, Colorado mayor Bob Frie.  When asked, “How can we as churches best work together to serve the city?” Frie said,” The majority of the issues that our city is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.” What if you read the book and then launched a neighboring initiative (or even a pilot)?

See also, Don’t Miss This Great Resource: The Art of Neighboring.

9. Introduce community to your serving teams.

With regathering happening everywhere, serving teams are being rebuilt and with rebuilding comes the potential of reimagining the way teams operate. What if team leaders were given a simple way to build community into their serving opportunities?

10. Rethink and reboot your coaching structure.

With the potential for releasing a wave of small gatherings of friends, neighbors and co-workers, it has never been more important to make a team of encouragers and equippers ready to come alongside new leaders. The same ideas are still true. While the structure may feel very informal, you still want the "coaches" in your structure to do the right things TO and FOR (and WITH) these new "group leaders", modeling the way you want these new leaders to care for the members of their new group.

See also, Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.

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