Small Group Slugfest

The church I serve – Our Savior’s Baptist, in Federal Way, WA – has had small groups for years. I’ve been on staff less less than 3 years and have been given responsibility to improve small group health and vitality. For the first 2 years we basically tried the “Don’t rock the boat” method. I worked to develop contact and relationships with small groups and their leaders offering advice on resources or problems if asked. I recruited leaders and launched new groups whenever possible. Our slogan was, “We’re always starting new groups.” But during this time I also planned for a new methodology  – “In and Out” – which we launched last fall. A full year elapsed between the time I first presented the semester approach to our leadership and the actual launch.

Our first semester launched last fall with a church-wide campaign. We had plenty of new group leaders and hosts volunteer for this first 8-week semester. People signed up over three weekends and we launched 19 groups with 225 adults. About double what we had in previous groups. The remarkable thing was that this was a huge departure from the  DRTB method that had been in place in three ways:

1. Every group studied the same material

2. Every group met every week

3. Every group was “open” and took on new members.

We just launched our second semester with 14 groups and 160 people. This semester is a “free market” semester with every group choosing their own material. Interestingly, 5 groups are using Max Lucado’s Fearless dvd and 2 groups are using Chan’s Crazy Love. Involvement is good but not as strong as the previous semester. I can identify a few reasons for that.

1. I didn’t actively recruit any new groups. I simply took what I got from the previous semester. Four group leaders/hosts declined to lead this semester and one long-time group folded. My goal was 15 groups and I did work hard to keep from losing any more than that. I thought that 15 groups would be enough. In retrospect, I wish I had recruited at least 1-2 new groups since several of our groups filled. That suggests to me that there was greater demand than supply.

2. Church-wide campaigns will attract more leaders and people. With a supporting sermon series and dvd-group study it was pretty simple to host/lead a group. People liked the ease of that and wanted to be part of a big campaign. Our Savior’s has a pretty strong recent history of church-wide campaigns and people willingly participate.

3. This semester was longer. Four weeks longer! The fall semester was just 8 weeks. Pretty snappy. This semester has a 10-12 week soft landing depending on the material used. Some leaders and people were less willing to jump in to a 12 week commitment.

4. The unexpected. We lost two groups of good size that we didn’t expect to lose and few – if any – of those group members joined another group.

Here’s what I’m taking away from this experience: In the future I will be more intentional about recruiting leaders/hosts. I should keep that previous motto of “we’re always starting new groups” as a motto for each new semester. I will also have a contingency plan to deal with the unexpected. We will plan to have at least one church-wide campaign each year because it is a great way to attract new group leader/hosts and new participants to small group life. Finally, I like the semester approach…so far!

Question: Anything that I’m missing from this experience? What should I do differently for the next semester?

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