What’s the Best Way to Launch New Small Groups?

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What's the best way to launch new small groups? Ever asked that one? I get asked that question a lot...probably more than any other question. And for good reason, after all, who isn't trying to increase the number of groups (and the number of people in groups) in their church?

So what's the answer? It's not as easy as that. I could tell you what I think, but I'd rather lead you through a way of thinking about it so that you can make up your own mind. Ready for that? Okay...here's how I talk about it.

First, a couple assumptions. Here they are:

  1. There is no problem-free. This is a very important realization. What it means is that no matter what situation you're wrestling with, all of the possible solutions to that situation have issues. All of them. There is no problem-free. You just have to choose which of the problem sets you'd rather have.
  2. There's an upside and a downside to everything. In some ways this is a corollary to the first assumption. What it means is that nothing is without some of both (positive and negative). You may want to argue that there are some purely negative things. I've not run into one but I'm not going to argue it. Just take it for what it is. Turns out there's even an upside and a downside to the assumption!

Three Common Methods of Launching New Groups:

Now the answer to the question: "What's the best way to launch new small groups?" Remember that we're going to walk through a way of determining that for your own congregation. To do that, you need to know that there are three common ways that groups are being started.

1. The Old Fashioned Way: A leader is recruited (either from an existing small group or out of the congregation) and usually given some kind of training. Those who sign up to be join a small group are assigned to the new leader once training is completed. A slight variation of this one is where people who would like to lead a small group can sign up to be trained. Either way, a leader is either recruited or signs up on their own. This method is probably the most familiar. Whether you're a cell church, embrace the meta model, or are totally into affinity based small groups, this is your method at its root.

The Connection Event: An event is used to gather potential small group members and then a process sorts prospective members by some kind of affinity and then helps group members choose a leader from amongst themselves. This is often referred to as a "small group connection." Popularized by Saddleback, this method has been used by many churches around the country. North Point's GroupLink is a version of the idea that utilizes preselected leaders for the new groups.

The HOST Strategy: Hosts (as opposed to "leaders") are recruited to open their home and invite a few of their friends to be part of the group. The recruiting process can be done by tapping the shoulders of the "usual suspects" or as a kind of invitation in the worship service itself. The way you recruit has an effect on who hosts and ultimately whose friends get invited. Once hosts are recruited and trained they're frequently listed as open groups ready to receive unconnected people looking for a small group. This method was popularized as a part of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign.

Problem Sets:

Now that you know the three common ways that groups are started, let's develop the problem sets for each of the solutions.

The Old Fashioned Way

  1. Hard to get apprentice leaders to leave their existing small group
  2. Hard to find qualified leaders who are not currently in a small group
  3. Hard to find enough leaders to provide the number of groups needed
  4. Some who volunteer to lead have alternative motives

The Connection Strategy

  1. Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person chosen to lead
  2. Lack of control about the quality of the leader candidates
  3. Those chosen to lead may be unwilling to commit to leading
  4. Might necessitate an honest conversation if the group chooses someone with insurmountable issues

The HOST Strategy

  1. Uncertainty about the maturity or appropriateness of the person who volunteers to host
  2. Lack of control about the quality of the HOST candidates
  3. Those who commit to host a group may not wish to continue
  4. Might necessitate an honest conversation if the host candidate doesn't meet your qualifications

Conclusion? Based on these problem sets, which way do you go? You can surely see that there really isn't a problem-free solution. Which set would you rather have? In some ways it may depend on things like how concerned you are about your unconnected members and attendees, how effective you've been at recruiting and developing new leaders, or how well you know the unconnected people in your congregation.

What do you think?  Got a problem that I need to add to my list?  Want to argue for another possible solution?  I'd love to talk about it!

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  1. Adam-Small Groups Pastor in MD on March 19, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Right now we are using a “morphed” approach. We have an introduction to Community Group Leadership called “Essentials” first. This is one of the places we intentionally try to surface new leaders. A few weeks after Essentials we have a “Group Launch.” We have done this twice now.
    The first time I had trained leaders in place, and we connected about 35 people, and started 4 groups.
    This last time, I had 2 leaders in place, but we were expecting 40 people. So, as I told them, we initiated Group Launch “Beta”. It was a good thing we did because 50 people showed up. We launched 5 groups, 2 with prepared leaders, 3 groups surfaced their own. So far, all are going strong. Each group lasts 6 weeks and then decides whether or not they want to keep meeting (so there is an on ramp and off ramp). If the groups that self-identified leaders want to meet past the 6 weeks, they then attend Essentials (where they learn the 7 Essentials of CG Leadership), fill out an application and agreement, and then interview with me.
    My current problem is finding enough coaches. 🙁
    (I’d like to know how NorthPoint finds enough leaders who are prepared in time for GroupLink.)

  2. Mark Howell on March 19, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Good job Adam! I’d suggest watching the difference between the two sets of groups(those with prepared leaders and the three without a prepared leader). Look for differences in how things turn out. In a recent interview we did with Stephen Redden, Director of Community Group Operations at NorthPoint, we were told that they have prepared leaders for about 60% of what they launch. The rest of their leaders are chosen by the group as a result of an 8 session curriculum. Interesting…don’t you think?

  3. Steve Roesler on March 23, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    Mark, here’s a somewhat different approach than the “normal” three.
    We decided that, if someone has a passion and felt call that lends itself to a group, then we make sure that everyone knows about it in this way:
    1. The person says “Hey, I’d like to get a small group together with our focus being______”. (Could be a small group for marrieds of

  4. Anonymous on March 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    That’s good Steve! It’s a blend of the old fashioned way and something new. The key to the old fashioned way is that a “leader” is either recruited or volunteers and then is given members somehow. By allowing someone to choose an area of passion and then promote it you’re introducing a new tweak. Not problem-free…but then that’s the point!
    A question might be, “how dependent is the concept on the opportunity to promote the group as a way of engaging members.” If it depends on that, scalability would have to be listed in the problem set.
    Still, I like the openness to a new way!