The Fall is the biggest season of the year to launch groups, but before you launch groups this Fall, you need to plan ahead. Over the years, I’ve seen churches pull out all of the stops for a Fall campaign only to watch the small groups ministry shrink back to its former size after the six weeks is over. I don’t know about you, but so much work goes into a Fall launch just to watch the results disappear is disappointing. And, you certainly can’t make disciples in six-week once-a-year groups.
If you follow a church-wide campaign or an alignment series model, the draw is usually the short-term experience. Your people have a chance to kick the tires and see what groups are like. People who don’t consider themselves as leaders can take group leadership for a test drive. These are great ways to plant seeds for small group ministry. But, unless you have a way to bring in the harvest, you’ll be planting and replanting seeds year after year after year. I refer to this phenomena as Ground Hog Day. While it’s great to give your people a trial run at groups, the trial run is not an end in itself. If they like groups, then what do they do next?
Keep Your New Groups Going
To keep new groups going, you have to offer them a next step. In the middle of the first six-week study, offer them another study for their group to continue. With new groups, you should choose the study for them. Most new groups I’ve led typically don’t have much of an opinion of the first two or three studies they do. Just choose a study for them. Otherwise, they’ll get lost in the study choices that are out there. If the group doesn’t decide to move forward while they’re still in their first study, they probably won’t continue. You want the group members to decide to continue before the end of their first six-week study. As far as established groups go, they can continue with their normal pattern after the campaign ends.
Choose the Right Study
In choosing a next step study for your new groups, if the groups started with a video-based study, then you need to offer a video-based study as a next step. Eventually, the leaders will gain the training and experience to lead other types of studies, but initially the goal is to get the group to take the next step without having to consider any other factors. But, for now, if they started with video, then give them more video.
The next study could be a sermon-based discussion guide with a short video from the pastor. The group could simply download the discussion guide, click the link to watch the teaching video online, then discuss and apply the topic. Some of the churches I’ve worked with have actually recorded these videos between the Sunday morning services on a smartphone, then uploaded the video directly to Youtube or Vimeo. Other churches shoot the video before or after the weekend with the pastor in a studio or in a living room. You don’t need to plan out and shoot the entire series. You can just make the videos and write the discussion guides as you go. This is a great way to help your people take their weekend into their week.You could also create a video-based curriculum about what it means to be a small group at your church. This could become the standard next step for every new group that starts. While I’ve talked to a lot of pastors over the years who were interested in this, nobody actually created one. So, I decided to take the hard work out of doing this for you. Next week, I am releasing Community: Six Weeks to a Healthy Group. This is the second in a series of Do It Yourself curriculum I’ve created. The video scripts are written. You just need to shoot the videos. Then, you can purchase the study guides at allenwhite.org/community. (If you are interested in a custom version of the study or need help with video production, contact us here.)
You can also purchase curriculum for your groups or use a curriculum from a streaming video service. Again, you want to choose something that is relevant to a new group.
Timing is Everything
If your campaign or alignment series starts in late-Summer/early-Fall, then you can offer another six-week series in the Fall that will end before Thanksgiving. It is nearly impossible to keep groups in studies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day in the U.S., so the study will need to conclude by Thanksgiving. If your campaign starts later in the Fall, then end the first six-week study before Thanksgiving and start the next step study in January. You will still want to invite groups to continue in the next study while they are in their first study this Fall. Secure a commitment from the groups to continue with the new study in January, then offer some suggestions for what they can do during the Christmas holidays as a group.
If a group will do two back-to-back six-week studies, more than likely they will continue on as a group. If you don’t offer them a chance to continue, then more than likely the group will disband. You’ll have to start over again next year. A next step study will make all the difference in keeping your new groups going after a Fall campaign. Don’t miss this step.