Where two or more gather, there is a small group.
2020 is finally winding down, and the cat is for sure out of the bag: things didn’t go “back to normal” after Easter like they were supposed to. This pandemic comes with a lot of implications for your church. Reaching new people is no longer as simple as opening your doors on Sunday and welcoming new members of the flock.
A new person’s first interaction with your church is becoming less and less likely to occur during your Sunday service, whether it’s online or in person. People are becoming more inclined to check out your church’s small groups before they ever engage with your sermons and Sunday activities. And with social distancing and restrictions on public gatherings, online small groups can become the most attractive opportunity for a person interested in joining your church.
Moving into 2021, your church’s ability to use online small groups to reach new people will be crucial to your church’s ability to grow.
Small Groups Then Vs. Small Groups Now
For many years churches have used small groups as a growth strategy, riding off the back of Sunday services. “Big church,” on Sunday was like the doorway into the house with a grand entryway, smiling greeters, and breathtaking art that’s fun to look at. Small groups were more like the living room, further into the house with comfier chairs and more intimate conversations.
Up to this year, small groups have been viewed more in the discipleship vein.
“Come to our new member class, and then, if you want to go deep, join a small group.”
Now there’s a new way to use small groups. The digital wave that has swept over all churches has created the opportunity for your small groups to be an outreach tool. Instead of using your small groups for discipleship, you can leverage small groups as an evangelical opportunity to attract and reach new people.
To be clear, you should still have small groups dedicated to discipleship — that third or fourth step in plugging into the life of your church. But as people continue to search for community, you must have small groups that serve as the first step in engaging with your church.
3 Steps To Launching Small Groups For Outreach
Step One is making these small groups topical. For people already involved with your church a general, “small group” is attractive because they already know people and likely have already taken steps in their faith journey. The people who have never been to your church before, or maybe any church for that matter, aren’t enticed by a small group where they don’t know anybody.
Entice them with topics of interest in the surrounding community or hit on their own, currently felt needs. Think of the focus and commonality of a book club. It’s a small group of people meeting to discuss one specific topic and a particular piece of content.
If you need help uncovering relevant topics for your community, visit churchfuel.com/kyc to get a free report on your community and what would be relevant to the people in your area that have never been to your church.
Step Two is choosing the right format. For your small groups dedicated to reaching new people online is the way to go. People can engage with your church and meet new people, but when it’s digital, they’re able to do so in the comfort of their own home. The barrier to entry is way lower. It makes joining your church’s small group a more palatable first step for a brand new person.
And if a small group member visits your church after being a part of a six-week, topical small group on Zoom, they’ll feel more connected than if they walked in your door with zero prior interaction.
Step Three is making sure these online topical small groups have a defined start and end date. Keeping the time between six and twelve weeks is the best amount of time to keep new people engaged with your church.
Once you reach the end of your small group’s set amount of time, you need to have a transitional call to action. It can be, “Hey, now that we’ve discussed this topic for six weeks, do you want to do six weeks on this completely different topic?” Or it can be, “Now that you’ve been a part of this small group for three months, are you interested in joining our new member class?”
As with everything your church does, your online small groups dedicated to reaching new people need clear next steps. Our Follow-Up Course has tons of great content on how to follow up with people who have shown interest in your church but haven’t become consistent members yet.
You’re not launching a new ministry.
Whether you’re a big or a small church, this is an incredibly accessible thing to do to reach new people. You don’t have to purchase expensive audio equipment, hire new staff, or even cater a bunch of Chick Fil A that doesn’t get eaten.
Follow the three steps we have given you and simply repurpose your usual small group efforts toward discipleship for evangelism. The goal is not to impress people or immediately turn strangers into members.
The goal is to reach new people and create community around a topic that is relevant to them.
Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode HERE.
Quotes from Episode 2.8
“Churches have thought of small groups as a discipleship tool and what we're realizing with this digital wave that is sweeping over us, is that digital has created a new opportunity for us to use small groups as an outreach tool.” – Michael Lukaszewski
“The cool thing about this is that you can use outside resources. If you wanted to do something about finance, you could walk through some sort of like financial plan and resource other curriculum for it. It makes it super easy for people who are going to be leading the pack, or leading the small group.” – Meagan Ranson
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