When Should Our Group Open to New Members?

A healthy part of group life is adding new members to your group. Most groups will lose members over time. If you don’t add new members occasionally, then your group might just stop entirely. If your group isn’t normally open to new members, there are some key times to consider opening your group.
The start of a new year is a great time to open your group to new members. Folks who have been thinking about joining a small group get that extra nudge of New Year’s resolution fever that just might direct them to your group. (The Fall when everyone is returning to church after Summer break is also a good time). If you plan a 6-8 week study that will begin in January, it’s the perfect opportunity for those leaning toward joining a group to jump in. Please understand that your new group members will need regular reminders about the group meetings, since they are developing a new habit. But, in time, it will become a regular part of their lives.
The start of a new study is also a great time to open your group to members. While some groups have never met a stranger, other groups want to know who they can count on from week to week. There is a natural flow to accepting new members at the beginning of the study, then “closing” the group for the remainder of the study.
The start of a new group is obviously a great time to add new members. If you or a member of your group feels ready to step out and start a new group, the New Year provides a great opportunity to connect with new group members. New members really thrive in new groups. We always need new groups. Maybe you’re just tired of your current group. There is no more noble reason to leave a group than to start a new group. Nobody can blame you for that.
The New Year is also a great time to meet prospective group members at a Small Group Sampler. A Sampler is simply an informal gathering where prospective small group members can meet small group leaders and their groups. In a large room or concourse, arrange tables according to the type of small group (Men’s, Women’s, Couples’, Singles, etc.) Each group decorates their table and provides a little food to sample. Groups should also provide some information about their group: where and when they meet, their next study and so forth. Prospective members visit the tables and check out groups that they’re interested in. For the best results, have prospective members sign up for a 6-week trial of the group on the spot rather than creating general lists for follow-up.
If your group has been together for a while, and you don’t regularly advertise your group, I would put you in the category of “invitation only.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Rather than hanging out your shingle for whosoever will, you can simply ask your group members who they know that would enjoy or benefit from your next study.
There is no right or wrong way to add new members to your group. The best way to prepare is to give new members a warm welcome and an open heart. If you lead an established group, there will be a brief adjustment period, but after a little while everyone will feel at home.

Should Our Group be Opened and Closed?

There are good reasons and bad reasons to close your small group. One good reason to close your group is when a study becomes intensely personal. As your group is working through difficult issues in the lives of its members, it would be pretty awkward to add a new member. Once the issue is worked through, then it would be time to open your group again.


Your group could also be in a situation where a member of your group is facing a crisis. Rather than focus the group’s attention on welcoming new members, for a season, the group needs to focus on caring for the member in need.


Then, there are some wrong reasons to close your group. For instance, the group is happy with the members they have and they really don’t want any new people to spoil the party. The group’s motto is “We seven going to Heaven” or “Us four and no more.” The group may go on for a while, but the problem comes when a few members can’t meet any more. As the group begins to decline in members, it becomes increasingly difficult to add new members, because the group has been so close-knit and tight for so long.


Another wrong reason to close the group is fear that once a group reaches a certain number, the group will be asked to start a new group. Everybody’s happy together. Nobody wants to leave. The thought is just to close the group to new members and avoid the problem. Unfortunately, the group will begin to encounter some of the problems mentioned in the last paragraph. When I arrived at Brookwood Church almost three years ago, I made a promise: I WILL NEVER ASK A GROUP TO DIVIDE. I have kept that promise. We’ve recruited new hosts to start new groups. I’ve given strategies of sub-grouping to increase the level of participation in a larger group. But, I have never asked a group to divide. So, open up the doors. Let the new ones come in! When it gets to be a problem, let’s talk about it.


Closed groups can easily become sort of a cul-de-sac. They are receiving, but not giving. Just as the Dead Sea in Israel has no outlet and continues to build up mineral deposits, groups can calcify and become not just stagnant, but also rigid. One solution to this is for the group to serve together. Whether you take meals to the Frazee Dream Center or paint walls at Generations Group Home or collect items for Little Steps, your group has an outlet for ministry.


One of the worst things that can happen to a group is that the group just becomes all about itself. The group loses its edge. Everyone becomes more understanding of each others’ behavior and less likely to confront bad behavior. It’s easy to slip into complacency. A continued inward focus is not healthy for any believer or any group.


There are some good reasons to close your group for a season. There are also some good reasons to open your group:


1. You have the opportunity to help people connect who might otherwise be lost in the crowd on Sunday. People with friends in the church are the most likely to stay. Those who don’t know anybody are much more likely to leave.


2. An Open Group has the opportunity to reach people for Christ. While your group doesn’t need to hand out tracts on the street corner, your group can model Christ for someone who is searching. Eventually they might cross the line of faith.


3. Open Groups make us more Christ-like. I’m not saying that Closed Groups are ungodly. There are good reasons to be closed. Open Groups, at times, can make us uncomfortable. It takes extra effort to welcome new people and to help them fit in with the group. Open Groups force us to be a little more selfless. It’s not about what we like and who we like, it’s about God using the group to minister to others.


Open or Closed really depends on where your group is at and what you’re called to accomplish. Think about these reasons and pray about what your group should do next.