Leading a Post-COVID Small Group Ministry

Leading a Post-COVID Small Group Ministry

I am foreseeing the post-COVID small group ministry happening in a big way. Actually, I see a small group boom in fall 2021. For some this is starting now. One church in my coaching group recruited 50 new hosts for their spring 2021 launch. Things are looking good for groups, but things are looking different for groups.

Small Group Ministry is More Decentralized Than Ever

As a small group pastor or director, you have been longing for a decentralized ministry. Well, COVID decentralized your ministry, now don’t reel it back in. Keep your small group ministry outside of the building. Here are a few things to think about:

Put your training online and push it out to your leaders.

Empower your coaches to serve the leaders. Don’t wrap this all around you. You’ve got to multiply yourself.

Get training into your leaders’ hands. Give them a copy of a book like Making Small Groups Work by Cloud/Townsend or Leading Healthy Groups by Allen White.

Keep your groups in neighborhoods as much as possible. There’s something personal about meeting in someone’s home. There’s also something powerful about meeting in a neighborhood. Let their light shine!

Pivot to a Hybrid Groups Ministry Amid This Unprecedented Pandemic

There, I got all of the COVID clichés into one subhead. The word for you to focus on is hybrid (online and in-person). It will be a while before everyone is ready or able to meet in-person. But, here’s the other thing – some people like this online world. If I don’t have to get myself to church for a meeting and arrange for childcare because the meeting is online, I’m in!

The same goes for groups. Some people are tired of being apart and are ready to get together. Let them figure it out. Encourage groups to review their group agreement and see what works best for everyone.

Some groups meett online and couldn’t get back together even if they wanted to. People moved away. But, the group can keep meeting together online. If schools no longer have snow days due to online classes, then online groups no longer have snow birds. Online groups keep everybody together.

The new debate is meeting in-person or staying online. Just like we had the debate between the maskites and anti-maskites last year, this year we have groups splitting over some wanting to meet in-person and others wanting to stay online (I posted about that issue here). Now, imagine if every group in your church became two groups. (Read that again: Imagine if every group in your church became two groups!) You would have twice the groups. You would have more opportunity for people who prefer to meet in-person to join the in-person half of a group. You would also have more opportunity for people to join online groups. HINT: Don’t combine your groups. Even if they’re small. Keep them separate. Let them grow. Double your groups.

Something I’m Piloting Right Now

This past weekend I led a host briefing at two physical campuses as well as an online campus simultaneously. I am serving as the Life Group Director for a church that is 747 miles from my house. Fortunately, it’s in the same time zone!

The senior pastor made the invitation for new hosts during the service. Folks responded by text to the church’s text service. They were given instructions by text about how to join the briefing – the room on-campus or the link online.

From my home in South Carolina, I led the three campus host briefing over Zoom. I was on the big screen at the physical campuses, then interacted with the folks online as well. Each physical location had a person assisting me. I could see the room. My assistants had a mic to pass around for people who had questions. I also answered questions in the chat on Zoom.

The prospective hosts at the physical locations had a hard copy of the briefing packet and the host application. Those who met online had a pdf of the briefing packet and a link to register online.

Experienced leaders were present at all three locations to meet the new hosts and begin walking alongside them for the next 12 weeks (a three week ramp up, then a nine week series. Nine weeks? – I’m just following the senior pastor’s lead).

I will keep you posted on what else I learn.

What are you learning about small group ministry right now? Leave your response below.

Join me for a webinar: Small Group Restart: Ministry in a Post-COVID World on Wednesday, April 21 at 2pm Eastern/ 1 pm Central/ Noon Mountain/ 11 am Pacific. Click here to register.

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Bad Reasons to Close Your Group

1. Our group values closeness.

Developing close relationship should be a high value of Small Groups. Your group is where everybody knows you, unlike the sea of thousands on Sunday morning. But, there is a line where closeness causes a group to be in-grown. The motto changes to “Us four and no more” or “We seven going to Heaven.” The problem is that what was once so great for your group will likely become the death of your group. Over time, members will move away. Schedules will conflict. As your group begins to decline, somewhere around the two year mark, you will find it hard to recruit and keep new members. There’s too much history going on. When it’s all said and done, your group will be done.


Open groups enjoy meeting a steady stream of new prospects. Some will stay. Some will not. And, that’s okay. The core of the group will continue to become close. The new members will start out as the “ministry” of the group, and over time, they will become close-knit as well.


2. Outsiders might upset the rhythm of the group.

People become comfortable with familiar patterns. They sit in the same place. They make the same inside jokes. They even greet you the same way every time. (Pay attention, they do). It doesn’t take long for a comfort zone to become a rut. Then, when prospective members visit, everything is upset. The new folks don’t understand the jokes. They don’t know the routine. They might even sit in your spot. Okay, if you haven’t caught on to where this paragraph is going, please go back and read #1 again.


Your group won’t be the best fit for every prospective member. Every group has a personality. It might be a good idea to “interview” the prospect who is looking for a group or meet with them days before the group meeting. You will get a good sense of whether or not your group will suit them.


I know if people visit my group expecting  “the pastor,” they will probably be disappointed. Our group has a weekly Bible study, but we’re not parsing Greek verbs and digging through commentaries. Our group is led by “Allen, the guy who is a pastor.” It’s not for everyone. When someone asks about our group and I don’t think it would work, I tell them, “You probably wouldn’t like my group. But, here’s a group you would really like.” But, there are people who ask about the group who fit in very well. I do my best to figure that out ahead of time.


3. Confidentiality. Hello!

Confidentiality should always be a very high value in a Small Group. Groups are defeated and often destroyed by loose lips. Anything said in the group should stay in the group, even if you know the other parties involved. You can value confidentiality and include new members. When a new member joins the group, simply go back and review the Ground Rules, Group Agreement, or whatever you call it. The conversation could go something like is: “Since several new folks have just joined our group, I’d like to take a few minutes and review our group’s Ground Rules/Group Agreement. One of the things we value strongly in this group is confidentiality. Anything that is said in this group needs to stay here. Agreed?” If they agree, then you’re good to go. If they don’t agree, then they’re out the door. I doubt that you will need to kick anyone out.    



4. If our group gets too big, then the evil Small Groups pastor will…

What’s the ideal size for a Small Group? Most people will say that a group should be 8 to 12 people. At Brookwood Church, we have Small Groups from two up to 200. It all works. I don’t think that the number is as significant as what is happening in the group. Can everyone get their word in? Does everyone feel cared for? We all know that when numbers go up, care goes down.


So, how do you care for a group of 200? You sub-group. The group of 200 has a dozen or more table groups. While they open the meeting together and watch a video teaching, they spend the last half of the meeting discussing the lesson in smaller groups. Any group over eight people should sub-group. If only a few people are talking, and others aren’t saying anything, then it’s time to sub-group.


But, isn’t sub-grouping just a sneaky Small Group Pastor way of getting our group to split up? Sitting here at Krispy Kreme with my hand on my electronic Bible, I will pledge to you that “I, Allen White, will never ask your Small Group to split, birth, multiply or divide into a new group.” Here’s what I’ve learned over the years: if a group is good at inviting and including other people, it is stupid for me to limit the size of the group. Why should we handicap groups that excel? That just doesn’t make sense.


So, open up the doors. Invite every living, breathing person that you actually like. Grow your group with the assurance that there is no mandatory maximum number that will put your group into peril.


I hope that you feel challenged rather than threatened by these words. If God has given you the gift of hospitality or evangelism, I certainly don’t want to get in the way of how God can use you. There are a lot of people at Brookwood Church who need you and your group. Pray about who to invite, then pay attention to who crosses your path.


Allen White

Adult Discipleship Pastor

Brookwood Church, Simpsonville, SC


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