How to “Activate” Small Groups in a New Church Start

This is Kerrick Thomas – I’m the Executive Pastor at The Journey Church and co-author of “Activate” with Nelson.

He asked me to address a question today that we receive regularly about when and how to start Small Groups in a new church plant.

We’re often asked if the Activate small groups system will work in a small church plant, and let me just say “yes,” I believe the “Activate” strategy of semester-based small groups does work for a small church plant (under 100 people).

Remember – The Journey was a church plant of about 80 people when we started semester-based small groups 7 months into the church.

We often caution people not to try to launch and start groups at the same time, because of the energy it takes away from the other systems of your church in the early days.  However, six months after launch (or if you’re already running over 100 adults) is a good time to get your groups started.

Let’s say you just launched this past February, this would be my suggestion to you… begin your small groups this Fall with what we describe in “Activate” as a church-wide campaign.

In other words – develop a teaching series for the Fall that ties in with the small group curriculum you will be using and have all of the small groups study the same material. That way – all of the groups are studying the same material every day and it ties in directly with what you are teaching on Sundays.

In the other semesters, we give our small group leaders the freedom to choose the study they lead (with approval and direction from our staff). But every Fall we do a campaign where all the groups study the same material.

We find it gives a lot of momentum and synergy to the church.

Here are some ideas to prepare for your full-church campaign:

1 – You and another staff person might consider leading a couple of small groups this summer with people in your church who you would like to be the small group leaders for the fall.

2 – Start sign ups for your Fall groups shortly after school starts back in the Fall. For us in NYC that’s Labor Day. We begin sign ups that weekend and then kick the groups off a month later (the first week of October).

3 – Pick a study that allows you to teach on the topic on Sunday and have the groups reading about it during the week (and then they discuss it together in their groups). We even sometimes provide daily devotions to everyone signed up for a group by e-mail.

4 – A good example of curriculum is “The Purpose Driven Life” and the “40 Days of Purpose Campaign”. Each Sunday you teach on one of the purposes and the groups are reading the “Purpose Driven Life” during the week.

We’ve also done campaigns on the Sermon on the Mount, the New Testament Challenge, Financial Freedom, 40 Days of Faith, etc.

Hope this helps give you some ideas!

God bless…


P.S. For more on implementing a semester-based Small Groups System in your church, check out the three-hour audio training: The Activate Seminar.

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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church growth strategist, pastor, church planter and coach, consulting with churches around the world. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has personally trained more than 3,500 church leaders in over 45 denominations through live events, seminars and monthly coaching. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in Boca Raton, FL. Nelson and his church routinely appear on lists such as “The 50 Most Influential Churches” and “The 25 Most Innovative Leaders.” He is the author of over 100 church growth resources and 18+ books, including The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life, Ministry and The Difference Maker: Using Your Everyday Life for Eternal Impact, and At the Cross with the People Who Were There. He and his wife, Kelley, have one son, Alexander.

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