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Instead of laying out a mandate, create a magnet.

You have plenty of people in your small group. Now if they would just show up! At any given meeting you’re lucky to see half of the people who say they’re in the group. The other half give every excuse in the book for not being there – they’re not feeling well, their spouse/kids/dog/neighbor/neighbor’s dog aren’t feeling well, they have to attend an activity at their kid’s school, they have company in town, they’re getting ready for a trip, or that ever-elusive “something came up.” So, your group never gets any momentum going and there’s a general feeling that no one cares. In fact, there are meeting days when you want to call and bail out on the meeting yourself.

What do you do?

Understand that most important lessons are caught, not taught. So instead of laying out a mandate (the “should”) you can create a magnet (the “want to”).

Which do you think will have more impact on your group members?

You’re right, the value equation. Your group will be more compelling when it has more value to your members than any alternative.

So, here are some quick ways to make your group an “I can’t miss this” group:

  1. Make your group an encouragement group. Encourage at least one person in every meeting, and make sure everyone is getting encouraged regularly. Try the hot seat exercise where one person sits in the middle and everyone else says something that they like about that person.
  2. Make your group a bonding group. Help people get to know each other. If you have new people, go around the group and have people share their testimony, one per week. Maybe invite new people over for dinner outside of group so they know you already when they come to the first meeting.
  3. Make your group a caring group. After prayer requests have been shared, have each person pray for the request of the person to their left. If someone has a need, like an upcoming move, plan a date when the group helps them move.
  4. Make your group a sharing group. If your group has more than six people, try breaking into sub-groups for discussion and prayer. That allows time for everyone to share. Assign a discussion leader to every sub-group and make sure they know to encourage and reinforce discussion.
  5. Communicate an expectation. Don’t let it go unsaid. Remind group members in subtle and direct ways that the perfect small group that they long for only comes from commitment and consistency, and that the way to make lifelong friends is to be around the same people a lot.

Remember, your group members won’t be enticed by a better alternative if your group IS the better alternative.

When someone joins your group how do you get them going toward become an involved and invested member of the group?

One way to handle this is to recognize that there are different levels of commitment in your group, just like in the church. Your goal is to help each person make greater commitments to the group.

Five levels of commitment

The first commitment level is the community – the people at this level aren’t in your group. Their commitment is zero. They may or may not know about your group, so it’s unreasonable to expect that they even show up. Your objective with the people in your community is to get one person or couple at a time to visit the group. Have everyone in your group make a list of your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Then pray for them. Then invite them.

The second level is the crowd – these are the people that visit your group. They come, they don’t come. They’re checking it out – they’re sort of there and sort of not. When it’s convenient, they’re there. When something better comes up, they’re not. Your objective with the crowd is to get them to make a commitment, to show up regularly, to be prompt and to be part of the group. Give these folks lots of encouragement and positive feedback when they participate. Make sure they get an opportunity to share every week. Include them in everything.

More serious commitment

The third level is the congregation (or membership) – these are the people who consider themselves members of your group. They have made a commitment to come almost every week and don’t miss often. They’re actively engaged in the discussions and they are getting involved in helping with some of the things that get done in the group. Your objective with the congregation is to get them to own a responsibility in the group. You can start by getting them in the rotation to “lead” the group. Leading can be as easy as facilitating the meeting – starting it on time, gathering everyone together, asking someone to open in prayer, starting the lesson, directing the discussion, starting prayer requests and asking someone to close in prayer.

The fourth level is the committed – these are the people who do the work of the group. They handle one of the purposes, they may offer their house as one of the host homes for the group, they go to leadership trainings at church so they can learn what’s expected of the group and how they can help steer the group, they are a greeter, encourager, welcoming person and all-around group booster. You want them to step up and champion one of the purposes like the social connection of meeting reminders or recognizing birthdays or anniversaries; or the person who looks for opportunities for the group to serve, either each other or outside the group; or the person who has a heart for others and finds ways the group can do outreach activities; or maybe someone who handles the worship part of your meetings. You and your co-hosts will be watching the people in your “congregation” closely to see what kind of interests and SHAPE they have, to see what they could be best suited to do in the group.

Your job with them is to help mentor them by encouraging and coaching, to help them assume overall group responsibility.

The fifth level of commitment

The fifth and final level is the commissioned – these are the people who co-host the group and share overall leadership/steering of the group. They get what the group is supposed to be doing and they’re instrumental in helping it come about. They could just as easily be the only host of the group. Your assignment with the commissioned is to gently help them get ready to launch their own group, or to take over leadership of the group while you launch a new group. Timing is totally up to you and them. Your prayer is that they will have learned from you and gained experience in the ways to lead the group and raise up leaders in the group. The objective is to raise up everyone over time and at their own pace.

It’s not hard

This pathway doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. It only needs you to be thinking about where everyone is in your group, and to raise up some co-hosts to help you develop everyone.

Your group may decide to stay together for life. Or, it may be a group that people grow up in and move out of as they graduate into starting a new group. The key is to help everyone grow.

We’ll talk next time about some of the tools you can use to help people make their next step commitment to the group.

If you prefer Twitter-length info, here are the points of this post in 140 characters or less.

  • To get greater commitment in your small group, know where each person is and help them get to the next level.
  • Help people in your small group feel like members and they’ll act like members.
  • People who aren’t in your small group have zero commitment to it. Start them on the pathway by inviting them to visit.
  • Don’t expect a visitor to your small group to be committed to it. Encourage them and ask them to join the group.
  • When someone “joins” your small group, give them something to do so they can “invest” in the group.
  • When a person commits to your small group, make them part of the “leadership team.”
  • When someone becomes one of the leaders of your group, give them a bigger purpose.
  • Encourage the purpose team of your small group to become the launch hosts of new groups.  
Saddleback Church Saddleback Church serves the Southern California community through more than 200 ministries, eight worship venues, six campuses, weekend worship services, a variety of counseling and support programs, Bible studies and seminars, local and global outreach programs, and a broad network of small groups meeting in local homes. Its purpose is to lead people to Jesus and membership in his family, teach them to worship the Lord and magnify his name, develop them to Christlike maturity, and equip them for ministry in the church and a mission in the world.

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