5 Steps to Increase Your Small Group Participation

Many churches have mission statements like ours: “Glorifying God by Making Disciples who Make Disciples.” We are failing as a church if we are not making disciples. That’s the mission of the church, but discipleship happens in three different areas in the context of the local church. You have corporate (sermons), semi-corporate (small groups), and private (one-on-one discipleship).

If you have a small group ministry, you’re already aware of how effective semi-corporate and private are for discipling your flock. The question then becomes how to increase participation in your small groups. Your people will attend small groups if they see the value of attending a small group, and getting them to recognize that value takes a multi-pronged approach.

Create a Gospel Culture in Your Church

People will be reticent to attend a small group unless they feel it’s safe for them to do so. There is a fear of intimacy and being vulnerable. They may think, “If people really knew me, what I think and what do in my private life, I won’t be accepted.” Creating a Gospel culture will promote a willingness from churchgoers to be transparent and allow others into their lives.

The Gospel promotes an identity in Christ. When your church believes the Gospel, they understand they’re redeemed and beloved children of God and nothing can change that reality. The need for approval based on external man-made achievement or human measures of righteousness diminish. The fear that caused members to avoid being vulnerable in a small group or avoid small groups altogether evaporates under the light of the Gospel and God’s everlasting love.

The first step to encouraging small group participation is developing a Gospel culture in your church and helping members truly grasp what the Gospel means for them.

Help Your Church to Understand the Need for Community Living

Your church members need to be convinced that small group participation is a theological necessity. If your members are persuaded the Bible teaches a small group approach to discipleship, they will be more willing to participate.

Americans have traditionally valued rugged individualism, but it is foreign concept in the Bible and antithetical to what the Scriptures teach. The author of Proverbs writes: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1). There is strength in numbers, especially in the community of believers.

There is strength in numbers, especially in the community of believers.

When an individual person comes to Christ, he or she comes into a corporate body or community (Acts 2:42-27). We are baptized into the corporate body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Paul uses the metaphor of the many members in one body (Rom. 12:4-5). Biblical fellowship (koinonia) is assumed in the Bible when one comes to faith in Christ (1 John 1:3, 6-7).

We often individualize the teaching of the Bible, but should keep in mind that the books of the Bible were predominantly written to groups of people or churches and not individuals. Many of the commands we interpret as singular are often plural (Rom. 6:1-23; 12:1; Gal. 5:12-6:10: Eph. 4:17-6:18).

Depending on how you slice them, there are 30 to 40 “one another” commands in the Bible. These commands require relationships. One is not able to bear another’s burden, comfort, or serve one another, unless he knows the person and his or her needs. Small groups provide the perfect setting to cultivate these relationships and minister to one another.

Community Is the Soil for Sanctification

Someone may ask: “Isn’t it enough to go to church and hear a sermon? Why should I go to a small group?” We must help them understand they will only grow as they should when they are in community with other believers.

Sermons are essential and should be the primary focus of a Sunday worship service, but they are monologues. Sermons were never considered to be the primary means of sanctification. Yes, Jesus preached, but He spent most of His time in dialogue with his discuples - a small group of 12.

Yes, Jesus preached, but He spent most of His time in dialogue with his disciples—a small group of 12.

How many times have you or a person in your church been convicted of something that you heard in a sermon, but never took any action? Think of the rich young ruler. Jesus told him the truth he needed to hear, and he thought: “Great! I am doing what Jesus said I need to do to receive eternal life.” But through dialogue, the rich ruler was held accountable and confronted with his sin. Small groups provide the ability to engage in dialogue with others in a setting in which they can be held accountable to not just hear the truth but live it out.

Show How People are Loved and Cared for through Community

Getting people plugged into a small group is really the most effective way to make sure that they are loved and cared for by the church. If someone is sick and needs meals, their small group will be the first to learn of the illness and meet those needs. If a couple needs marriage counseling, their small group can support them through prayer, providing accountability and even baby-sitting while the couple meets with their counselor.

I had the experience of ministering to two people with terminal cancer, one was an isolated Christian and the other was completely connected to her church and active in small groups. The isolated Christian was often sick and alone. His wife had to work and His children lived in different cities, so he went through chemo by himself. The other person always had people willing to be with her during her illness. In fact, even when her own parents couldn’t stand to be in the same room as their daughter because of the deterioration from her cancer, believers from her small group were with her, ministering to her, singing to her, and loving her until the moment she was called home.

Create a Culture of Small Groups

The last step to increasing small group participation builds off the foundation of the previous ones. Once your church members understand the theological and practical importance of small groups, you should take steps to create a culture of small groups in your church.

Perhaps some of these practical ideas can work in your congregation.

  • Give a plug for your small groups from the pulpit.
  • Preach a sermon on small groups.
  • Involve other leaders to emphasize the importance of small groups for everyone.
  • Invite people to share testimonies of God at work in small groups.
  • Have a small group launch service and make it a big deal when they begin.
  • Commission small group leaders with a public prayer in front of the congregation.

We will not grow as we should as individuals if we are not part of a small group, and we will not grow as we should as a church if our people are not part of small groups. Increasing participation in those groups is not simply a worthwhile goal, it is a requirement of a truly healthy church.

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