I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with small groups.
I love being in them, but getting them to work well has always been a lot of work. And it’s not that I haven’t tried or don’t have experience or training. I do. And I feel like I’ve tried most models out there.
I’ve done cell groups. Initially they started off well, but over time people began to complain that they wanted more diversity in kinds of small groups, and we felt like we weren’t able to meet the spiritual needs of a broad number of people.
We began semester-based small groups last summer and the launch went really well. But I had a certain issue (the same that I had in cell groups): people were always hesitant to open up their homes. And due to the way I was trained up, people had to meet in homes or other places. Never at church. So here’s what I began to notice over time, though, as I continued to lift high the home-small groups: that insistence became a bottle neck in our ability to help people have a small group experience. We could never find enough homes to accommodate the small groups that we wanted to have.
This was a big problem, of course, because I had been trying to implement the principles behind the book Simple Church, and I didn’t want to go back to another model.
But then something happened.
A few months ago I actually heard Eric Geiger, co-author of Simple Church, speak at a series of meetings in Orlando. During a Q & A session, I shared with him my difficulty in getting people to open up their homes, and then he shared something that surprised me. He said that some of their small groups meet at their church. He said that it’s not about getting a home experience, but a small group experience, no matter where you meet. This blew me away, to be honest. Because then it opened up a whole series of opportunities.
So here’s what we did at Carrollwood Church. We re-shifted our dialogue and our strategy. We had some Sabbath school classes (same as Sunday school) on Saturday morning. So we just opened things up. What we would have on Saturday mornings were all going to be called small groups and nothing else. In the semester-based small group system that we’re using, based upon the book Activate, there is a month in-between the small group semesters in which you promote the next semester and give people an opportunity to sign up. So we made a list of the small groups we were going to be offering during the week, in addition to the small groups we were going to be offering on Saturday morning. And we told people that we didn’t care what small group they signed up for, as long as they sign up for a small group. So whether it meets during the week or on Saturday morning it doesn’t matter. But we want every person to have a small group experience.
So what has the result been?
It’s a little too soon to give the complete report, but we’re expecting that under this metric, we’ll have more people participating in a small group than ever before. And this way people don’t have to feel guilty if they don’t have the time to come to something else during the week. They can have their small group on Saturday morning and continue growing spiritually. Is it as intimate as a home small group? No. But what I’m discovering is that a small group is much too intimate and thereby intimidating for a lot of people. And weird as it sounds, meeting at the church is like a neutral location for a lot of people.
So that’s been my Simple Church epiphany. It’s helped me to streamline our process all the more and have everyone on the same page.
What about you? Have you noticed anything similar with getting people to meet in homes? How have you dealt with that? Do you have any groups that meet at church?
[image by Kaddy]