How One Church Connected an Entire Congregation Through Small Groups

By Allen White

“Connect 100 percent of your congregation into small groups.”

Now that’s a sales pitch.

Our church was stuck: Only a small number of our adults — just 30 percent — were involved in small groups. After seven long years of slugging it out the old fashioned way — raising up apprentices to birth new groups — we were headed nowhere. Only one leader started a new group. Connecting everyone in a group was my dream, but it seemed only a pipe dream.

Then, 10 months ago, I attended a conference for small group coaches. The speaker, Brett Eastman, shared a new idea: groups can multiply, without dividing, by recruiting overlooked people to be hosts. This is called the host model. I was intrigued because none of my leaders had been able to recruit apprentices in their groups.

At the workshop, Kent, a coach from a Las Vegas church, shared how they connected large numbers in their congregation in a relatively short period of time using the host model. Not only did they assimilate great numbers of their congregation into small groups, but they also reached their community through small group community. I thought, “Maybe this really could work.”

On the drive home, I thought about what my senior pastor was most passionate about. With the recent release of The Passion of the Christ, he was planning a new sermon series. I thought, “Why not launch small groups based on The Passion?” When we did, we went from 24 to 44 groups in one day! This was great progress for a congregation of 800 adults.

From the pulpit, my senior pastor invited all members of the congregation to host a group for a 6-week study. It took off from there. In our post-Easter campaign, we added 25-plus new groups.

For our fall campaign, we started recruiting hosts, and our pastor aligned his weekly messages with the study our small groups were using. Then, we took 50 verses from the Bible and asked 50 members of our church to write a one-page devotional. The high participation awed us. Our pipe dream had become a reality. More than 100 percent of our average adult attendance plugged into a group.

It isn’t just about the numbers, though. Each number represents a life. When one man invited his co-workers to join him for a study on The Passion, two of them accepted Christ. I asked one host, “What motivates you to continue your group?” He said, “My dad is showing up.” His dad turned his back on church years ago; although he wouldn’t come to a service, he attended a small group at his son’s house. This was his first step back to God.

Our small groups also began to reach out beyond our congregation, serving hot meals to the homeless every Friday night. One host took her small group to a local women’s shelter. Individuals wouldn’t volunteer alone, but they were willing to serve with their group.

“Connecting 100 percent” was far more than a sales pitch; it was the first step in reaching beyond the walls of our church and connecting our community.

From Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox #199

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