by Allen White
When our family was living in Orange County, California, we had the privilege of being part of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is an awesome church. While they currently have an attendance of about 30,000 people and 3,000-4,000 small groups, my impression is that they are just getting started.
As I traveled with Brett Eastman and the team from Lifetogether.com, I was often asked, “So how’s your small group going?” I would sheepishly bow my head and reply, “I’m not in small group right now.” I knew that this “do as I say, but not as I do” thing would not stand up for long. So, I decided to join one of Saddleback’s then 2,000 small groups back in 2006.
I filled out the response card on Sunday morning requesting information on men’s groups. I received a letter in the mail directing me to look on the website. I had already been on there. That’s partly why I turned in the response card. The website gave me what every small group website gives you: Group Name, Leader Name, Day of the Week, Time of Day, Location and Current Study. How did I know which group to try? It was a crap shoot.
Now, I was a bit of an odd duck at Saddleback. Through my position at Lifetogether, I knew all of the pastors. I just didn’t know many of the members. If a friend had invited me to Saddleback, then they would have shown me the small group ropes. But, I was an “outsider.” I didn’t have that connection.
What I began to realize that day was every church has a lot of “outsiders.” A job or a warmer climate brought them to the area. They don’t have extended family. They like the Sunday morning service, but beyond that they are just at a loss as to where to get started.
Some brave souls will roll the dice and contact a group through the web. They believe in the importance of small groups, so they will tough out the awkwardness of the introduction to get to the good stuff. But, there is a better way.
For seven years now, at both New Life Christian Center and Brookwood Church, we have offered a Small Group Connection after the services on the Sunday morning prior to a new series and the Sunday morning of the new series. Group leaders and new group hosts are available to meet prospective members face to face. Most people have a sense of the leader within the first 30 seconds. Is this a person they would hang out with for the next six weeks? If so, then they sign up right on the spot. If not, then they meet another leader until they find a group they would like to try.
I’ve found that prospective members discover old neighbors, high school classmates and even co-workers. Even those who don’t know any of the leaders at least have a face with a name, so they aren’t walking into someone’s house cold turkey on the first night of group.
There is a place for the small group website, but honestly, why depend on a programmatic method to form small groups that are highly relational? There is no substitute for a personal invitation and a face to face meeting.
I eventually found a men’s group at Saddleback Church. The leader was a former preacher. He talked too much. I went twice, then I stopped going. Today, I have a great lunchtime group that has met every Wednesday for two years. It also is probably led by a preacher that talks too much.