How to Activate Your Small Groups in the Suburbs

The Small Groups IntensiveEver since Kerrick Thomas and I wrote the book Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups, we get a lot of questions from readers wondering if the Activate (semester-based) small groups system will work in their setting, whatever that setting may look like.

Perhaps the most common of these questions is “The Journey is in New York City, but will this system work in a more suburban (even rural) setting?”

So, today we have a guest blogger – Roy Mansfield, who leads small groups at a great suburban church in Panama City, Florida (Northstar Church).  He’s going to share some of what he’s learned about implementing and finding success with Activate Small Groups in a very different setting than NYC:

Top 5 “Suburban” Semester Based Small Group Learnings

I have had the privilege of living my early elementary years in a rural setting in Alaska (and by “rural” I mean shoot-a-moose-once-a-year-for-meat-walk-over-a-mile-through-the-snow-to-get-to-the-bus-stop-no-indoor-plumbing kind of “rural”).

I have also had the privilege of leading semester based small group ministries in local churches in an urban (New York City – humbly titled “The Capital of the World”) setting, as well as a suburban (Panama City. FL – affectionately titled “The Redneck Riviera”) setting.

My experience is that people in every setting are at their core, very similar.

With that being said, here are the top 5 principles that I have found to be helpful to highlight when developing semester based small groups in a suburban setting:

1) Recognize that children are an opportunity to maximize your small group’s experience.

The best group experiences are always when a group takes the opportunity to do something together that resembles real life.  You’ve probably noticed that few people spend much of their “real lives” sitting in a circle talking about The Bible. Learning God’s Word together is one of the greatest benefits of group life, but the opportunity to apply what they learn as a group will always maximize their experience.

Beginning your group’s semester by finding a way to serve one another by caring for the children is one of the best ways to help people to begin functioning as group participants.  Without a challenge like this, many group members will just be spectators looking for what they can “get out of the group.”

For some practical suggestions on how to go about handling small group childcare CLICK HERE to view an earlier CLI blog post on the subject.

2) Encourage leaders with “small homes” to host the group in someone else’s home.

I have found that the more comfortable people are, the more comfortable they think they need to be.  In New York City group leaders seemed happy to cram 15 people into their apartment’s 10 x 12 living room and suburban homeowners seem to think it impossible for 12 people to fit in their living room twice that size.

Many potential small group leaders will decline leading because “their home isn’t big enough.” We always encourage potential small group leaders with that objection to list in our small group catalogue the area their group will meet, and then give the opportunity to host the group to members who sign up for the group.

Someone is always happy to host and now there is another family or person who has ownership of the group.

3) Divide group snack responsibilities

Because our goal is always small group participants instead of spectators, snacks are another great way to get people involved. Give 3 people the opportunity for “snack service” every time your group meets.  Have someone sign up to bring “salty snacks,” someone to bring “sweet snacks” and someone to bring drinks.

You should schedule everyone for every meeting of the semester your first night.  CLICK HERE to download a sample sign up sheet.

4) Try a semester of interest-based groups

Give leaders the chance to lead a group that is centered around something that interests them.  This is a great thing to do during your summer semester.  Encourage people to center their group around something they would likely do anyway. Running, beach, movie, horseback riding, fishing and craft groups have all been successful.

You ask the group leader to take a few minutes to have someone share a 5 min. devotional, pray for one another and then begin your activity. This kind of group is far less intimidating for most new leaders and it’s a great way to build their confidence to eventually lead a book discussion group.

5) Find your community’s place on the stalker/apathy continuum

If you are signing up new people in groups you will always have some who do not attend the group consistently (or even at all). You will want to figure out how to reach out to those people so they know how much they matter to you (and to God) without become an irritation.

You will need to consider the different methods of communication (i.e. phone, email, texting, facebook, twitter and even (gasp) face to face communication).  Then decide what communication strategy will be most effective in your community.  For example, I found that people in Panama City are more comfortable with a phone call than people in New York City were.

Our general response strategy to someone who does not attend their group is:

1. Keep them on the list of people who receive the group’s weekly emails throughout the semester (unless they request to be removed).
2. Contact them with a “light hearted, we missed you” phone call within 36 hours of the group they missed.
3. Limit the “we missed you” phone calls to 2-3 for the group semester.

P.S. To learn more about how to effectively implement small groups at your church (regardless of the setting) check out The Small Group Intensive.

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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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