Decades ago, a theme song with a catchy chorus was composed for Cheers, a popular American sitcom that shared an undeniable truth. The chorus emphasizes how we want to go to a place where everyone knows our names and is always glad to see us.
Although the sitcom was based on relationships in a bar, every time I hear the chorus, I can’t help but think how wonderful it would be if people found that kind of community within the context of a local church—if they felt they were that known, wanted, enjoyed, and understood. Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to help that happen is through small groups.
Healthy small groups are part of the lifeblood of a vital church. Home groups, Bible study and discipleship groups, Sunday School classes, and smaller groups like these greatly help with deeply connecting people not only with God but also with each other. It is easier to share about yourself and recognize the needs of others when you are consistently part of a smaller community.
Here are ten ideas on how to foster small groups that people will make a priority to attend:
- Meet consistently and value the time of members. For most people, time is their most prized possession. If you don’t meet consistently or they are unsure if you are going to meet, they will probably make other plans. If members have young children, they are balancing their feeding, care, and bedtimes, so they need to know they can count on when you’ll begin and end.
- Help members connect with one another. Making introductions, pointing out things they have in common, asking getting-to-know-you and mixer-type questions, sharing meals, or even playing a game are all things that help members connect. If your group has men and women, consider meeting separately part of the time to help members connect deeper. Before my homegroup joins together for prayer time, the men and women eat in separate rooms. My daughter and son-in-law’s group varies in ways that help them connect deeper and care for their kids. They meet two weeks out of the month as families for dinner and then have a paid childcare worker during their meeting time. The other two weeks of the month, they alternate with only the women meeting one week and the men meeting the other.
- Facilitate intentional conversation. As a leader, it’s important that we don’t just talk and teach but that we provide plenty of opportunities for members to verbally share and learn from one another on meaningful and relevant topics. Ask questions that encourage more than a yes or no answer. Provide active learning environments to discuss Scripture and how to practically apply it. Listen to input from a variety of people and ask if anyone who hasn’t shared has something to add.
- Pray for one another while you are together. Not only is it easier to ask for prayer in a small group than it is in a large gathering, but it also makes it possible to actually pray for one another while you are together. Hearing someone pray for you is powerful, but hearing an entire group pray for you endears you to them all.
- Give opportunities to develop and use spiritual gifts. Small groups are ripe with opportunities for members to develop and use their gifts of leadership, organization, teaching, serving, encouraging, and more. Whether they are developing questions, leading a discussion, or organizing meals, having some responsibility and “skin in the game” gives them a practical reason to come.
- Make people comfortable. I’m not talking about providing cushy chairs or avoiding talking about unpopular truths but rather thinking through practical issues of concern that might keep someone from attending. For example, assure confidentiality to possible members and that you will never ask anyone to pray out loud unless you are positive he/she is comfortable doing so. You can also provide options like Zoom or placing fewer chairs around discussion tables to anyone who has pandemic anxieties.
- Connect with and follow up on individuals outside of group time. Who wants to be part of a group that doesn’t even check up on them if they were absent at the last meeting or got a bit emotional when they shared a prayer request? Connecting with people outside of group time communicates genuine care and makes people feel valued.
- Practically care for one another. Providing meals for members during times of surgery and grief, offering childcare and transportation when needed, and sending notes of encouragement all make people feel cared for and want to be part of your group.
- Serve together. My home group has made lovely memories together serving Thanksgiving meals, adopting single moms and purchasing gifts for their children for Christmas, volunteering at church events, and even going on a mission trip together to Guatemala.
- Have fun! Never underestimate the power that fun has to bond a group. We attach the positive feelings we have when having fun to the people we are having fun with, so play the game, celebrate the good times, and laugh. The group that plays together stays together!
Let’s make our small groups the place where people feel encouraged, challenged, and inspired in their faith. But let’s also make them the place where people feel known, wanted, enjoyed, understood, and connected with others. When we combine these elements, we help them make small groups a priority.
Author, inspirational speaker, Bible teacher, and disciple-maker, Vickey Banks is passionate about helping women connect the dots between God’s Word and their everyday lives. She loves serving as women’s ministry director at Council Road Baptist Church, as a Lifeway Women’s ministry trainer, and as a member of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Women’s Leadership Team. Vickey is also a contributing writer for multiple books, devotional Bibles, ministry guides, Bible studies, magazines, and blogs.