Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

Wouldn’t it be great just to erase 2020 and its sequel, the first half of 2021, and get back to how things were before? After the last 14 months, you’re ready to get back to normal. Everybody is. But, normal won’t look like 2019 for churches or small groups. Here are a few new normal things to weave into your plans:

People Have Given Up a Lot of Things

Most people’s calendars were whipped clean in the last year. This didn’t keep them from being very busy. Between virtual school and endless Zoom meetings, people were certainly occupied. But, their calendars were divested of serving at church, volunteering in the community, travel sports, and so much. Families who were once out every evening of the week were now home watching Disney+.

While everyone longs for normalcy, most people’s involvement won’t snap back to 2019 levels. They ruthlessly eliminated hurry from their lives. Isn’t that a good thing? Why would they volunteer to resume hectic lives?

Part of this comes from the phenomena of being out of the habit. Sort of like when you stop going to the gym, but continue to pay for your membership. You intend to return. But, getting there is another matter. The same is true for church attendance. Should churches start allowing their members to eat brunch and wear their jammies during in-person worship? That’s just hard to pass up.

Some churches haven’t returned to a full slate of worship services yet. This isn’t due to COVID restrictions. They can’t add services due to the lack of children’s ministry workers. So many loyal people just haven’t returned. Now what?

People are Ready to Regather on Their Own Terms

Your people have been separated for a long time. While every state’s regulations are different, a significant number of people are still reluctant to gather. Different parts of the country have seen very different results, but the bottom line is that people are ready to return to community.

Fall 2021 just might be the biggest small group surge that you’ve ever seen. Are you ready? But, don’t expect the return of 2019. This will be different.

Remember that people have divested themselves of a great deal of activity. Why would they add a small group if they’ve never done that before? Why spend time with a group of strangers when they’d rather hang out with their friends?

Then, there’s the continued debate between the maskites and anti-maskites, and now the vaxers and anti-vaxers. Some people are ready to meet in-person with their groups. Others want to stay online. Some online groups can’t regather because people moved out of state. They can only meet online.

You don’t need to resolve these debates or solve all of your people’s problems related to groups. You just need to give them permission and opportunity to create a group on their own terms. Where are your people finding community? How can they start a group in that community – in-person, online, hybrid – wherever.

Hybrid is the New Normal

After the last 14 months, there are a few things I don’t want to do any more. I don’t want to wait in line at Walgreens while they’re trying to find the cashier. I would rather place my order through the app and have someone bring it to my car.

I no longer want to wait in the Chick-Fil-A drive thru. There’s an app for that too. I don’t want to wait in the lobby at my mechanic’s. I drop off the car, check the boxes in an email listing the suggested repairs, pay online, and pick up the car after hours. It’s an introvert’s paradise.

Think of all of the reasons you ask people to come to the church building. How many of those things could happen online? How many one-hour meetings could be a 20 minute Zoom meeting? How many Zoom meetings could have been an email? In-person meetings aren’t better if the room is empty. People’s habits have changed.

People Will be Pickier About Their Commitments

Your people have had 14 months to reevaluate their commitments. Some things will stay. Some things will not come back. Some new things will continue.

Signing up for small group will be a harder sell. As I say, setting your people up for “blind dates” with a group of strangers is just not appealing. But, if your people could gather a group of friends who they miss spending time with and do something intentional about their spiritual growth – they’ll jump for that.

This is not the dumbing down of small groups. Gathering with people they already know and love is part of it. The other part is gathering for a worthwhile reason. What really matters? What’s a compelling reason to invest their time? What’s truly going to help your people grow to become like Christ? What is meaningful to them?

What will this look like at your church?

If you could use a little help navigating this new season of small group ministry, my next Small Group Ministry Coaching Group is starting soon. Click here for more information.