Do you have people who are new to your church and community and are looking to make some good friends? Do you have people in your church who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable joining a group? Or maybe you know of people who should be leading a group, but for whatever reason they don’t feel comfortable?
You could probably answer each of these questions in the affirmative. People are built to live in community with God and with other people, but in reality this is much harder than it should be for some people. To provide an easy access point for each of the people mentioned in the questions above, you may want to consider launching some connect groups.
A connect group is an affinity-based group that meets anywhere from one time to upwards of two months. At my church we take a break from our regular discipleship groups for eight weeks over the summer and launch a variety of connect groups. Some examples are: a one-day canoeing trip, a five-week intro to wood-working class, a six-week women’s study through the Book of Galatians, or a grilling night for men.
Your small group ministry, the place where disciples meet week-by-week to study the Bible and share each other’s burdens, should be the bread and butter of what you do as discipleship leaders. However, that does not mean connect groups do not have a place in our groups strategies. Today, I’d like to share some of the benefits we have found and ask you to consider these three reasons to launch connect groups at your church.
1. Friendship: One of the reasons we launch these in the summer is because many people are done with school and moving into our growing community. In addition many of our regular members are gone at different times throughout the summer on vacation. Either way, new families will always be moving to town, and for some people, making a connection and forming adult friendships is difficult. Because connect groups don’t come with the pressure or commitment of joining a small group, they provide an easy access point for new people because they go in understanding there is no commitment involved. Additionally, since many of these groups are based around affinity and common interest, there is a built-in conversation starter. At my church, we have found that many of the friendships that begin in connect groups do not end there, but continue on far beyond them.
2. Community: Sometimes there are people who aren’t new, but have never connected to an ongoing discipleship group for one reason or another. Unfortunately, these are the people in your church who fall through the cracks. Connect groups provide an easy access point for these people as well. It allows them to feel comfortable with other people at the church by meeting in a group where there is a fixed end date. I have been able to see people come out of connect groups with a newfound desire to connect to a regular, ongoing discipleship group. Many times, they join the regular groups of those they meet in the connect group. These types of groups build community and help connect more established members as well as newcomers.
3. Leader development: Any discipleship leader will tell you that they have people who are gifted and should be leading a discipleship group, but they just won’t commit because they feel like they don’t know enough or aren’t qualified. Consider asking these people to lead a connect group; it might be just what they need to build their confidence. The connect group gives them a lot of freedom to plan and schedule and test their strength as a leader. A groups pastor I know at a church with many people in their mid- to late 20s had a guy he wanted to lead, but this guy didn’t have the confidence to lead just yet. My pastor friend let him plan and lead a connect group with some other men, and now he leads those same men in an ongoing men’s small group. While this won’t always be the case, the connect group provided a low-impact way to build the confidence of a qualified leader.
Ongoing, biblically based communities of believers will and should continue to be the focus of all we do as discipleship leaders, but I have seen so much good kingdom impact start from connect groups. We want to lead our people to be maturing and healthy disciples, with a concern for community. Sometimes people need a little help taking the first step. That’s where connect groups have become helpful to us, and could be helpful to you as well.
Reid Patton is a Content Editor for the Custom Content Team at Lifeway Christian Resources, where he produces biblical small group studies for Discipleship In Context and SmallGroup.com. He is the thankful husband of Kristen and proud father of Ceile and serves with the Life Group leadership team at the Church at Station Hill in Spring Hill, Tennessee. In his free time, Reid likes reading and going to record stores. You can find him on Twitter @jreidpatton.