Are You Only Connecting the Usual Suspects?

Are You Only Connecting the Usual Suspects?
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Do you have a small group connections problem?

It turns out that there is a relatively simple solution to almost every small group ministry problem. And, the set of problems faced by small group pastors and directors is not extensive. It’s a fairly short list of problems.

Note: There is a difference between simple and easy. Simple can be the opposite of complex or complicated (i.e., “It was a simple solution that only required one change.”). Easy, on the other hand, is the opposite of hard or difficult (i.e., “Solving the problem was easy. It hardly required any effort.”).

Problem Solved: We’re Only Connecting the “Usual Suspects”

One of the most common small group ministry problems is only a certain percentage of the adults in any church are naturally drawn to connect in community (while the rest range from mild to extreme disinterest).

Note: I refer to those who are naturally drawn to community as the “usual suspects.”

As was the case with the problem of not being able to find enough leaders, there is a set of underlying issues in this problem and every underlying issue has a solution.

Underlying Issues and Solutions

The Wrong Champion: Relying on the wrong champion is the number one reason churches struggle with connecting beyond the usual suspects. Churches that succeed in connecting a high percentage of their adult attenders in groups have senior pastors as champions. Churches that struggle to connect beyond the usual suspects often have allowed the senior pastor to delegate the champion role (or have senior pastors who are ineffective champions).

Solution: If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects, your senior pastor must be the champion. The senior pastor is the most influential person in the congregation 99.9 percent of the time. What they make a big deal out of is a big deal. References to connecting opportunities and stories about the importance of being connected embedded into the sermon/message have the greatest chance of grabbing the attention of unconnected people.

Too Many Options to Choose From: The reality is that a key underlying issue is a lack of clarity about the right next step. When unconnected people look at the website, read the bulletin or listen to the announcements…they see and hear “options” (distortion) when they need to see and hear “best next step” (clarity).

Solution: There are two solutions to this problem: Trimming your menu options or at a minimum limiting what gets promoted. Either solution requires courage, honesty and determination. The reason there are options almost always has to do with the people championing them.

Legacy programs (the way connecting used to happen or the way adults were discipled in the past) are often led by influential people and it is rarely an easy conversation. It is also rarely a single conversation.

Still, if you want to connect beyond the usual suspects, you must move from a buffet of options to a set of tailored next steps that are easy, obvious and strategic.

Infrequent Connecting Opportunities: Unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders. Infrequent attenders are almost never in your auditorium or on your website the weekend you are holding your connecting event.

Solution:  If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects you must offer connecting opportunities year-round. Relegating starting new groups and connecting unconnected people to one main time a year leads to a low percentage connected. Scheduling connecting opportunities to take advantage of seasonal promptings will connect more unconnected people.

Note: Your percentage connected is found by dividing the number of adults in groups by your average adult weekend worship attendance.

Poor Promotion of Connecting Opportunities: Again, unconnected people are almost always infrequent attenders. They will almost never be in the room or on your website if you use a single shot approach to promotion. And, they will only rarely be listening to anyone other than the pastor (and even that is not a certainty).

Solution: Connecting beyond the usual suspects requires promoting the things that are important multiple weeks in a row and in multiple ways (i.e., website, bulletin, announcements and sermon reference).

Poorly Chosen Topics: Programming for the interests and needs of insiders will connect insiders. If you want to connect beyond the usual suspects, you must program to meet the interests and needs of outsiders.

Solution: Learn the interests and needs of unconnected people. If you don’t know any unconnected people, figure out ways to get to know them. Spending time talking with new attenders, holding focus groups, reading the latest from Barna.org or James Emory White will broaden your understanding.

I point readers to the Easy/Hard Continuum as a way of gaining further understanding.

This article originally appeared here.

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Mark Howell
Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded SmallGroupResources.net, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and ChurchCentral.com.

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