People often choose a word for the year. The word sets an overall theme or a goal to pursue. The word for small groups in 2021 is flexible.

Starting in March 2020, people divested themselves of most involvement. From church attendance to a gym membership to children’s sports and grocery shopping in a store. Don’t believe me? Look at the number of churches struggling to find children’s ministry workers in order to offer more in-person services. Your people gave everything up. Now, they will be pickier about what they will bring back.

Not only are they pickier about what to spend their time on, they are also pickier about who they spend their time with. Given all of the information and misinformation about the global pandemic, your people are ready to get back together with the people they know and love. They’re not looking to connect with a group of strangers. Why forsake their friends to spend more time with a group of people they don’t know and possibly won’t like?

Other people started attending your church online. They are ready to take next steps and maybe join a group to grow spiritually and make church friends. A consistent theme that I’m hearing from pastors across the country is this: In-person attendance is down. Giving is steady. Salvations and baptisms are way up. How are you going to disciple your online congregation? (Here’s what’s still working with online small groups).

And, speaking of the global pandemic, there is still a lot of confusion. Who’s been vaccinated? Do you need to wear a mask? Is it okay to go back out? This spring in our small group launch at Mount Hope Church, Lansing, Michigan, we launched 88% more new groups, but found that people wanted to launch a group in the way they were comfortable. Regarding the pandemic this meant online only groups, invitation only groups with people the host already knew, groups wearing masks, groups meeting outside, and groups that were over it. Did we plan out all of those categories? Absolutely not. People created a group with who they wanted to meet with, where they wanted to meet, and how they wanted to meet. All we had to do was give them permission and opportunity. The group hosts did the rest.

Your people will be gone this summer, if they haven’t gone already. Don’t plan on a big small group semester this summer. Let them go. They’ll be back. I predicted this back in March 2021.

The other thing I see coming is the fall small group boom. People have been kept apart for a long time. People are ready to take spiritual next steps. But, people are pickier, so you must be flexible in what you offer and how you offer it.

This doesn’t mean that you need to wreck your current small group system. That would be stupid. Here’s why. But, you do need to add some options for how your people can start new groups that are more flexible. Maybe you don’t even call them “groups.” Maybe you delay some of the requirements. If you’re not open to those ideas, then start groups of three people. Invite people to start with “you plus two.” For most churches that’s too small to be a small group, so you can dodge the leader requirements for a season.

The more flexible your approach to groups, the more people you will have living in obedience to the Great Commission. The more people you have living in obedience, well, the better your church is!

How can you be more flexible in your next group launch?

For more information on a flexible approach to starting groups, join the Small Group Reset: 5 Days to Reframe Your Ministry. This free, on-demand workshop will walk you through how to start, sustain, and strengthen your small group ministry. The small group boom is coming. Get ready! Click here.

A new 2021-2022 Small Group Ministry Coaching Group is forming now. There are only a couple of spots left. The group launches in July 2021. For more information, click here.

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 2021 isn't like 2020. Thank God!

But, it's not like 2019 either.

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