We’ve discovered that the best way to retain and integrate visitors is via our mid-week small groups. If we can get newbies in a small group and in a service team quickly they velcro in and begin to grow. However, this only really works if the small groups are just that – small. We’ve found 10-12 to be the optimum. As soon as they get above that they get flabby with the following results:
- They stop actively recruiting. New people are no longer seen as potential small group members. Rather they are ignored in the hope that someone else will pick them up.
- They become inward focused. Rather than focusing on new people they really become more like an exclusive social club. Outsiders are a problem not a blessing.
- People stop contributing to discussion in a large group – it becomes too difficult for every one of the 18 to have something to say. The quiet ones remain quiet; the vocal ones talk more.
- People stop praying earnestly, passionately, and desperately. For many praying in a large group is too intimidating so they clam up.
- People stop sharing life’s burdens together. There’s simply too many people to share and bear with in any deep or meaningful way.
- People stop committing to the group. When there’s only 8 of you your attendance matters – you’re valued and it matters that you’re there. When there’s 18 of you no-one will really notice if you miss occasionally. More and more people become more and more infrequent.
Large groups harm discipleship, recruiting, commitment, discussion and prayer. What can you do? The old wisdom used to be split them up. But the truth is groups get pretty cheesed off if you keep dividing them in half every time things are growing well. A better approach is to encourage groups to have a culture of commissioning. Once the group gets up to around 14 commission just a couple to start a new group around a new leader. Hopefully you may have a couple of groups who could do this at the same time, plus a few newbies who need a group. Hey presto you may be able to start a new group with 8 or so people. This requires deliberate structural and strategic planning – probably sitting down every sixth months and evaluating where all the groups are at. It’s work that pays off – keeping the groups lean and keen will provide a sustainable route for discipleship of new and old alike.
[ps. here’s what not to do with groups that are lower on numbers. Don’t send them more and more new people. If the group is tanking after a couple of years it’s because the leader isn’t recruiting or leading the group well. Sending more people won’t fix that. Better to start new groups with new people and leaders.]