By Allen White
Most small groups start around a study, but they stay together for the relationships. If the members didn’t like each other, then either they would leave the group, the group would stop meeting, or they would just assume that it was more Christ-like to suffer in a bad group. The bottom line is that even if a study gets people together, the study usually doesn’t keep people together if they don’t like each other. So, what does this have to do with adding new members?
Well, your group has stayed together because you like each other so much. You’ve become like family. There are inside jokes and stories that go way back in the group’s history. The group has celebrated victories and has stood together through tough times. This is all good. This is how small groups are supposed to be. But, then a new person shows up.
A new person coming into an existing group causes a lot of weirdness for everybody. It’s not that the group members are unfriendly. In fact, they are very friendly. That’s how the group got started and kept going in the first place. But, like it or not, the new person is an outsider, and they feel like one too. So, can you add new members to existing groups? It’s beginning to sound like it’s not possible.
It is possible, but it takes some hard work. You have to intentionally include the new members in the group’s history. When someone refers to an inside joke, you have to take time to explain the joke to the new folks. If someone says, “Hey Tom, did you bring the brownies?” Then everyone laughs. Someone needs to tell the story of when Tom grabbed a pan of brownies on the way out of the house, only to find out later that the brownies weren’t for the group. They were for his daughter’s class the next day. The group had double brownies. Tom had double trouble when he got home. This may sound a little awkward, but it’s necessary. Until the new members understand the group’s history, they won’t feel like genuine members of the group. Before you know it, the new members will be kidding Tom about the brownies too.
If your group finds that new members just don’t stick with the group, you might have to take more drastic measures to keep the members. We had a great group of couples at our church in California. They started out with five or six couples, but over time, the group became three couples. That happens to every group. They would invite and invite new members, but none of the new members would stay. There was too much history. So, we made a big change.
For one 6-week study, we asked the two existing couples to step out of the group and do the study on their own. The leaders then filled up the “new” group with new couples. After the study was over, the original members rejoined the group. The group stayed together.
It’s important to include new members in groups. If we don’t, groups won’t last. But, beyond that, Jesus’ heart was to include people who were excluded by others. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. Who has God brought into your path lately? Why not invite them to your group?
By Allen White