When you set up your connection strategy, did you stop to think about the folks you were hoping to connect? You need to. And don’t make the mistake of expecting the newest or least connected people in your congregation to have your sensibilities or priorities. When you design your connection strategy you need to keep the priorities and interests of unconnected people in mind.
Here are four keys to connection that will help you evaluate your strategy:
It’s easier to connect in a new group than in an existing group. The longer a group has been together, the more difficult it becomes for a new member to connect. Groups that have been meeting longer than about 12 meetings have begun forming an almost impenetrable membrane around their nucleus and only the most extroverted (and sometimes brazen) can break through to connect.
Can you offer a new group 52 weeks a year? No, but you can build in opportunities year round that make it easy to join a new group. See also, 5 Keys to Launching Small Groups Year-Round.
It’s easier to connect in a familiar setting than a stranger’s living room. Long-time church members and very connected people sometimes have a hard time understanding what it feels like to be new. Many of your church’s newest attendees will tell you that coming for the first time was a giant step and filled with awkward moments. Asking these same people to “find a group online” or “pick a group from our small group catalog that meets near you” is often even more scary than attending church the first time!
Are there people that can brave the unknown, find a group online or pick one out of the catalog and show up for a meeting? Yes, but it’s important to design your strategy for the less sure of themselves majority.
Consider offering on-campus connecting events or short-term opportunities that lead to an off-campus group. The familiar setting will make the first step out of the auditorium an easier step. See also, North Point Increases GroupLife Participation by Adding an Easier Next Step.
Choosing from a menu is preferred over assignment. Think about it. In almost every other experience, we are used to choosing from a menu of options. What movie would you like to go to? What restaurant? What class would you like to take? What store would you like to shop at? What church would you like to attend?
When an unconnected person is assigned to a group (i.e., you live in 90210, you’re assigned to the Wilson’s group) they feel limited. If your current system is to preemptively assign to a group based on zip code or life-stage, you may want to consider providing a way to choose from a short menu.
Choosing from a hand-selected menu is easier than choosing from a full buffet. It may surprise you to learn that too many options is actually demotivating. In a fascinating study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper (Choice is Demotivating) it was learned that more is rarely better. See also, Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?
An unconnected person is more likely to choose from a short menu of the best options than a wide menu of all options. If your menu of next steps looks more like the buffet at Luby’s (or the Mirage), you’ll want to consider highlighting a hand-selected short menu. Just because you have 9 entrees doesn’t mean you have to give all of them equally desirable platform.