“A big reason why we have small groups is to close the back door of the church.” Most church leaders would probably agree with this statement. After all, we know that if people are not connected in the church, they will eventually drift out of the church. So, we design our groups strategy to catch them as soon as possible. It is important that people in our church get connected in community, but we’re missing a critical evangelism opportunity if that’s our only plan for small groups.
Small group connection events within the church have proven to be the best strategy for getting church members into a small group, but if we are going to make a serious dent in our communities, small groups have to become a new entry point for the church. Think about how much stickier the invite to your church would be if the investment was through an invitation to be a part of a small group first.
• They will have already been exposed to the pastor’s teachings through the videos from the all-church study.
• There is built-in follow-up through the group meetings.
• There is no rush to get them there on a Sunday.
• It starts and continues with relationship.
If groups are to become the new front door of the church, they have to start with the neighborhood. Our world has changed so that most people don’t know their neighbors anymore. When I was growing up, our neighbors were a natural extension of our family. We knew all of our immediate neighbors, and I spent almost as much time in their houses as I did in mine. The thought of inviting a neighbor to your church wasn’t that scary at all.
Now, you are lucky to get a cursory wave before the garage door goes down and they disappear into the house. Who has time for connecting with your neighbors anymore? In our first neighborhood when we moved to Nashville, most of the houses had garage entrances on the back of the house. The only way to catch your neighbor was by chasing their car down the driveway and performing a drop-and-roll maneuver under the garage door before it could shut. I couldn’t understand why my neighbor wouldn’t talk to me again after I did this the first time.
It’s time to equip your small group leaders with a few ideas–and possibly some money—to help them better connect with their neighbors. The church can help them:
• Throw a block party. Opportunities begin as relationships, and block parties set the stage for future friendships.
• Host a movie on their lawn for the families in the neighborhood. Put out a few flyers around the neighborhood and fire up the latest Pixar hit.
• Participate in neighborhood-sponsored events like Easter egg hunts or quarterly “spruce up the ’hood” days.
• Organize welcome baskets for new people in the neighborhood. Just don’t include information about the church in those baskets.
Flipping the paradigm will take a concerted effort from the entire church and staff. Small groups meeting in homes and inviting their neighbors to join them give us the best chance to reach the 40 percent who would never walk into our churches. Resource allocations should reflect how important they are to the vision of the gospel. If you can help your leaders think outside the church building first, small groups will be your most effective evangelistic ministry.
Chris Surratt is a ministry consultant and coach with over 22 years of experience serving the local church. Chris served on the Executive Team at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, and was on staff at Seacoast Church in Charleston, SC, for 15 years. He is also the Small Group Specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. Chris’s first book, Small Groups For The Rest Of Us: How to Design Your Small Groups System to Reach the Fringes, was just released by Thomas Nelson. You can follow his blog at chrissurratt.com or follow him on Twitter @chrissurratt.