Retention: What Every Small Group Leader Wants
My pastor looked around the leadership group and announced that we had attracted just over 5,000 new people to our church in the last three years and just over 5,000 people not returned. “We need to start some small groups to help us retain our visitors,” he informed us.
Across the world small groups have become the way to keep visitors coming back. In spite of all the effort, small groups have created some problems in addition to providing value. Small groups take effort to run, are generally not appealing to stronger members and require a good deal of entertainment value to attract participation. Even when small groups are working well, the process of transitioning out of small groups often leads to losing many participants.
Whether the goal is to keep members involved in small groups or to transition small group members into established programs, the key question is, “How do we keep people coming back?”
Let us consider five ways that small groups can effectively keep people participating.
What keeps people coming back?
- Do something important. A small group member should be able to answer the question, “What difference would it make if I did not attend?”
My church tried to run a men’s ministry on Saturdays with lots of BBQ and activities for men included but the response was indifference. Men can grill at home and it makes more difference than a BBQ on a Saturday morning at church. All they contribute at the small group was one more member present. A small group should be able to point at something important that would not happen without being at the group.
- Learn something new. Many groups are a rehash of what we already know. Older Christians may seriously doubt there is anything really new they can learn in a small group. Most small groups are a confirmation of this expectation. Excitement about learning something new is very attractive to potential small group members and a good reason to grow your group as well.
- Stretch the comfort zone (slightly). Present a little challenge to your participants. Part of hospitality is making your small group a comfortable place. The big chair at home is a comfortable place too! We do not go to the gym that makes us comfortable with where we are. We get out of our comfortable chair to go someplace that will move us forward and stretch our comfort zone but neither to far or too fast.
- Have a “maturity gradient.” For people to grow in their maturity, they need relationships with someone “upstream” and someone “downstream.” We need people who have more experience and skill than we do so we can learn from them. We need others who can learn from us.
The only reason to keep coming to a small group is that it provides the people we need.
- Let God play an active part. People are touched by moments when they encounter and
. Two easy methods any groups can use are include:
— “Texting with God”, that is, writing notes to God along with our sense of God’s answer.
— “Stop for God”, that is, stopping to look for God’s presence and response to your small group right at the moment are simple acts of faith.
Small groups that are all about us and our weekly lesson are not as “sticky” as a moment with God. As one lady from a 12 step group background but little else said about her meeting, “Where else could I come to hear from God?”
What we have learned about Small Groups from developing the Life Model
Interacting with God at a personal level is one of the major reasons why people make positive changes. They continue to be involved with church, experience healing and transformation. Left to themselves, most people find interacting with God a little outside their comfort zone.
The same is true for creating belonging and learning new things. We have worked very carefully in the design of our small group materials like Connexus to make sure that we have programs that keep people coming back for change. Sometimes we have had to redesign a program and retest it with whole new books and videos more than six times before we achieved a small group experience that stretched people’s comfort zone just enough to keep them coming back!
We continue to improve our materials and would encourage you to learn all you can from your disappointments as well.
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Photo Credit Wonderlane.