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How to create an inviting small group

| by Brian Thorstad

Most evangelical churches have small groups and Bible studies of various kinds and configurations. Many of them are excellent; some of them are…not so much. All of them could stand some improvement. Our wonderful God is ready and willing to help us if we want to make them better.

Pastors or other church leaders who inform small group and Bible study leaders that their groups will be replaced with a whole new paradigm are usually met with an icy reception.  

A more realistic approach is to simply offer the good folks who are leading these groups some suggestions for how they can make a good thing better. Almost every leader is willing to consider such a list and almost every group can profit from a little tweaking.  Implementing even oneof the following could make a difference for the better in an already helpful group.

1. Spend more time together. Most of the experts suggest that small groups should last – from the first doorbell to the last “good night” — a good two hours. Other groups will profit greatly from meeting every week instead of less frequently.  

Why? It takes time together to develop real life-changing relationships. Challenge people to value these evenings enough to get a baby-sitter, come regularly, come on time and really get to know their fellow “groupies.” 

2. Add more prayer, for your group and in your group. Pray for your group members by name regularly. Get more group members leading in prayer by asking that prayers be kept to one sentence in length. Teach your group how to “pray through” passages of the Bible (including the ones you study together). 

Pray following a God-given pattern (like the “Lord’s Prayer”). Pray for the mission of your church.   

Gain more prayer time by skipping the prayer requests. Instead, give people prayer request lists prepared ahead of time by a group member. This is a radical suggestion for many groups, which are used to long periods of “sharing” and very little prayer. Ask your folks to give your new idea a try. They just might like it. 

3. Create an encouraging environment. Teach your participants to do “body ministry,” by using their spiritual gifts and obeying the “one-another” commands (teach one another, encourage one another, etc.) of the New Testament. Many of our Bible studies involve little or none of this, but that doesn’t mean that the participants aren’t willing to change when challenged. 

4. Go to a sermon-based format and focus on application. Many pastors are now creating one-page handouts for each sermon, jam-packed with great discussion questions for small group leaders to choose from.  Sermon-based small groups focus on application of the truths taught because, according to the Biblical philosophy of education, we haven’t learned a truth until we are practicing it. 

5. Serve together. Get your group serving together, either inside or outside of your church’s ministry. Serving together can re-energize and re-focus your inwardly-focused group. Serving together also makes a safe way for the new believers in your midst to begin serving. One great variation is to band together to seek to win folks in the neighborhood where your group meets. 

6. Train understudies without their knowing it. Don’t be afraid to ask group members to fill in for you when you can’t be present. Get them acclimated by having them lead only one portion of the evening. Preparing future leaders for future groups will energize your current group!  

7. Be assimilators. People aren’t looking for friendly churches, they’re looking for friends, in churches. My dream assimilation plan involves multiple small group leaders or participants inviting church guests, with handouts with maps on them, to attend their group during the upcoming week. 

8. Use on-ramps. The downside of practicing number seven is that a continual stream of new small group members will prevent the formation of real intimacy. In some cases, disappointed group participants head out the back door as quickly as others come in the front door.  

Solution? Have two or three weeks at the beginning of each new “term” when new members are welcomed aboard. Churches can stagger their small group terms so that there are always on-ramps which are wide open into one or more groups. 

9. Add accountability to your lessons. Larry Richards, in his book, Creative Bible Teachingand his Teacher’s Commentaryshowed us the way.  End lessons with participants putting themselves on record for how they are going to turn truth into action. Next week’s session can begin with a frank discussion of how we did with our resolutions! 

10. Add fun. Engage your group with picnics, outings, parties, etc. Who is going to make this happen? Why, your group’s “fun person” of course.  

Photo source: istock

Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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