Small groups play a strategic role in many churches today as pastors and leaders work hard to connect people in environments where they can experience biblical community. These small group models come in all shapes and sizes — sermon-aligned, free market, church-wide campaigns, geography-based, semester-based, and more. But the one thing every strategy has in common is the need to connect people.
Larry Osborne, author and pastor of North Coast Church in Vista, California, describes a “push” and “pull” approach to filling up groups. Most churches strictly “push” small groups — marketing them to the church and trying to convince people to sign-up. Osborne asserts that “push” is necessary but that “pull” is equally important. “Pull” is subliminal marketing that subtly reminds people — using many different approaches — of the importance and benefit of group participation. “Push” is about promotion. “Pull” is about creating hunger in people to join a group.
About the time you’re sick of talking about groups is when most people will have heard of groups at least once.
While there are many different “Push” and “Pull” approaches to get people connected into a small group, I want to share seven ideas to help you get started:
- Sign-Up Systems — Before you launch into an effort to connect people in groups, be sure to put the systems in place to capture sign-ups when people decide to join. If people are “pushed” to sign-up or feel the “pull” to sign-up, but cannot easily do so, it’s unlikely they will connect. Having online sign-up capabilities, bulletin response cards. and sign-up opportunities in the foyer before and after services makes it easy for people to get connected to a group when they’re ready.
- Promotional Resources — Promotional resources are marketing tools that help you “push” (promote) small groups. These promotional tools might include a small group brochure, materials for church-wide campaigns, email updates, social media strategies, banners in your lobby, and personal invite cards. Exhaust your tools to help you spread the word about groups. About the time you’re sick of talking about groups is when most people will have heard of groups at least once. Remember, many people in church attend services on average once every three weeks. That means you have to talk about groups for three straight weeks just to reach everybody in your church.
- Vision Casting — Casting a compelling vision for small groups is possibly your most powerful “push and pull” strategy. Inspiring vision not only gets the word out, but it creates hunger in your congregation to experience Biblical community. Vision casting can happen through sermon series, testimonies of life change, and stories captured on video. When you cast vision, be sure to include inspiration (something that grabs the heart) and information (practical next steps to get signed up for a group).
- Leader Involvement — Mobilizing your key church leaders is essential to increasing group participation. When key influencers are involved in groups, others tend to follow. Ask yourself three questions:
- How many of our key leaders in the church are leading a group?
- How many of our key leaders in the church are in a group?
- How can you increase the visibility of leadership involvement?
- Leader Invitations — One of your greatest assets to “pulling” people into groups is to put the recruitment responsibility on the shoulders of your group leaders. Nothing beats a personal invitation to join a group. This takes the burden off of the potential group member and removes fear or hesitations they might have about joining a group. Group leaders should create a solid invite list that includes people in their circles of life (family, friends, church, neighborhood, hobbies, work) and in their lists of life (cell phone list, social media list, email list, Christmas card list). When leaders extend a personal invitation, people feel naturally “pulled” into a group — because of the relational connection — rather than “pushed” to join a group.
- Connection Events — To maximize group participation, use connection events as easy on-ramps to join a group. A couple of times per year at 7 City Church we do an abbreviated Sunday morning service followed by a Grouplink event in our main lobby. This event provides an opportunity for people to meet leaders in a casual environment and sign-up for a group that feels right to them. Other churches expand the Grouplink concept into a stand-alone event that includes food, icebreakers, and an organized strategy to interact with various leaders before signing up for a group.
- Small Group Culture — Finally, to “pull” people into small groups, develop a small group culture that makes small groups “the place to be.” To develop this culture, Osborne recommends cutting the competition (so that small groups are not competing with other programs and ministries), consistently referencing small groups in sermons (with stories and testimonies), and providing a weekly small group preview (a weekly bulletin insert that includes the discussion questions for that week’s small group meeting). North Coast uses a sermon-aligned approach to groups, so including the questions for that week’s group meeting gives people a glimpse of what to expect in a small group gathering.
As you “push” (or promote) small groups to your congregation, and “pull” people into groups by wetting their appetite with the transformational power of community, you’ll create a broad and balanced approach that will help you connect a larger number of people into a small group environment. Once in a group, people will discover the impact of doing life together with other followers of Christ.
This article was adapted with permission from an article at www.StephenBlandino.com.