A Guide to Small Group Ministry

Church Matters, Leadership, Pastor's Life

Compared to large church services, small group meetings are often more interactive, conversational, and close-knit, helping members make deep connections as they work towards spiritual growth. Follow these tips for starting a small group ministry, and you’ll give the congregation more opportunities for learning, praying, socializing, leading, and helping each other.

Define Your Goals

Before you get started, figure out what you hope to accomplish through small group ministry. Do you want to build community among church members, help people grow in their faith, or provide a space for people to share their struggles and receive support?

You’ll also have to determine your target audience. You might be trying to reach young adults, seniors, singles, or families.

Knowing your goals and who your small group will be for will help you determine what kind of groups to create, how to structure them, and what types of leaders you’ll need. Plus, answering these questions before you start your ministry will make it easier to explain to church leadership and parishioners.

Identify Small Group Leaders

Finding enough leaders is a common issue for starting church small groups. But you don’t need people who have a master’s degree in theology. Look for people who are passionate about building community and helping others grow in their faith.

These leaders should be willing to:

  • Come to meetings prepared
  • Facilitate discussions
  • Pray for group members
  • Keep members connected
  • Create a welcoming environment for everyone
  • Continue learning

To serve their ministry groups, your leaders will need continued support, encouragement, training, and resources.

Start Small

When you’re first starting out, it’s best to begin with one group or maybe just a few groups. This gives you the opportunity to see how the congregation reacts and gets involved. As the ministry grows, you can always add more groups and expand your reach.

Set a Meeting Time and Place

Meeting online is a convenient option. But if you decide to meet in person, you’ll need an easily accessible place with adequate parking and seating as well as a welcoming feel (especially if you’re inviting people who aren’t members of the church). It’s important to make a good first impression. And remember that communication is key when setting up meetings.

You’ll also have to decide how long the meetings will be and how often they will occur. People have busy schedules, so meeting once a week may be too frequent. Bi-weekly or monthly meetings might be better for the group.

Set Clear Expectations

If you don’t set expectations for meetings, they can become unorganized and lengthy. A small group session might include icebreakers and snacks as well as prayer, readings, lessons, and questions to discuss and reflect on.

Use a session to talk about structure. Find out what elements of the meeting are most important to the members and make sure those elements get touched on each time. Ensure that everyone is on the same page about what is expected of them.

Growing Your Small Group Ministry

To help promote your groups, you might plan a launch event at your church, where you can introduce the groups and explain your goals. Additionally, you can advertise through your church’s bulletin, website, social media, or Sunday announcements.

Evaluate and Adjust

Evaluate your small group ministry periodically and make adjustments as needed. Solicit feedback from participants and volunteers to see what is working well and what needs improvement. If someone brings up a need that isn’t being met, see what you can do to help.

Starting a small group ministry requires time, effort, and commitment, but the rewards can be significant. By following these steps, you can create a program that brings people together and helps them grow in their faith.

Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an Elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza, which provides chairs for churches and other organizations.

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