Growing a Successful Group – Erin Manners
I believe whole heartedly in the benefit and necessity of groups in the church. I have seen many people, and have myself been so blessed by the friendships, support and spiritual and personal growth that takes place in a group setting.
Over many years my husband and I have been involved in leading, hosting, coaching and pastoring many different types of Connect groups, from youth, women, men, young professionals, families and more. Some have been hugely successful, others have struggled and eventually disbanded. So what makes the difference? Here are a couple of observations and tips from our time in group ministry.
- The right leader/s
Having the right leader is crucial. A person who is not only willing and enthusiastic but who can gather others is key. We have seen people with great study leading skills start groups but can’t get traction because they don’t know how to draw people in. A leader has to be confident enough to invite people and have an ability to keep people engaged. You can’t rely on a website advertisement to build your group, personal invitation is the most effective way. When starting a new group, it always helps if you have a couple of strong, committed people alongside the leader, that makes for a group in itself and can be added to.
- A common focus
While diversity is great in the church, when it comes to groups; we want to provide opportunities for people to develop genuine relationships in a comfortable environment. While in some cases it can work, generally groups that are an unusual mix of different people can be hard to get momentum and can lack purpose. If a group focuses on people who have something in common with each other, people will want to be there. They can learn from each other and have intentional conversations about life. I lead a group for Mums with young children. We operate during the day which suits us better than evenings, we cater for the children, and our bible studies, and conversations are focused around life as a woman with a young family. It is purposeful and specific to us and consequently the ladies have become great friends.
- Keep it fresh and fun
Don’t be afraid to change it up! Do a focused topical bible study, ask a guest speaker to come and share, have a pot luck dinner or go out for an evening, games night, worship and prayer time…if you keep it interesting and exciting people will want to be there. In one of our young professionals group we ran, we made up gift hampers and delivered them to all the neighbours. It was a great to see the way the recipients reacted and the group had fun doing something different!
- Create room for others to participate
Getting others in your group engaged and taking ownership of the group is crucial. We had a families group where we asked 2 other couples to share the hosting at their house, this gave them an important job while taking some of the load of us as leaders. Eventually one of the couples ended up taking over the leading of the group when we left the city. It was an easy and natural transition. Asking others to share thoughts or testimonies, lead the studies or pray can be great ways to get people more engaged. Always be on the look-out for new potential leaders, giving them opportunities to practice while you observe, and then give constructive feedback and encouragement.
- Plan well and Communicate
Have a plan! Set out the plan for the term and let your group know what’s happening in advance so they can plan as well. People have busy lives so we need to honour their time by being organised. Setting up a what’s app group or something similar is a great interactive way of communicating with everyone. As well as conveying information it also provides opportunity for people to share thoughts, prayer needs or other information. This also creates a great sense of doing life together outside of group nights and church. If someone is going through a hard time or had a new baby etc, you can quickly and easily rally around with prayer and support.
- Have a break
Many groups die out because the leaders lose their enthusiasm and get tired. (Points 1-5 will help with that!). It does take effort and energy to keep a group going, and sometimes you just need a break. We are strong advocates at LIFE of running groups term by term and having a break from running over the school holidays. It’s amazing to see how energised people are coming back after a break – both leaders and group members actually miss group! If you need to take a longer period of time out from leading, make sure you have someone prepped and ready to take the helm. It’s heart-breaking to see groups end simply because the leader needs a break and there is no-one to step in.
Cover your group in prayer. This is so important. Pray for God to bring in the right people.
I have a list of names up on my wall of all the ladies in my group and I pray for them collectively and individually on a regular basis. Prayer covers everything you do. I love the freedom prayer gives me to lead knowing that the Spirit will accomplish His purposes.