There are 3 things you need to do in order to give your new groups the best opportunity to continue. But before we even get into how to do it, let’s define what sustain means. When I talk about sustaining new groups, I’m talking about helping new groups make it into a 3rd study. Six weeks is short enough to help unconnected people commit and long enough to help them begin to develop some connective tissue. The second six-week study will go a long way to helping them truly connect, and if they make it into their third study they will have enough muscle memory to keep them going.
Here are the four keys to sustaining new groups:
First, give them a coach before they even begin to meet. If you’ve made it easy to start new groups (one of the keys to starting lots of new groups), you’re going to enlist a lot of group leaders with great potential and no experience. To give each of them a person who can walk alongside them for their first 10 to 13 weeks is a huge advantage. A relatively short connection with a coach each week will go a long way toward helping new leaders feel confident and make adjustments. See also, Recruiting Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns and Clarifying the Win for Launch-Phase Coaches.
Second, help every new leader recruit a co-leader as their first assignment. Don’t miss this important idea! If you help new leaders recruit a co-leader (who is NOT their spouse), they’ll have a much better chance of continuing. It will lighten the load for the new leader and they’ll be able to meet more consistently (even when the leader cannot be there).
Third, give each of your new groups a study to do next that is similar in kind to their first study in about week 4. This is very important. Remember, you helped them get started by giving them an easy-to-use study on a topic that mattered to unconnected people. Your new leaders said “yes” to a 6 week commitment and their members said “yes” to a 6 week commitment. But…about 4 weeks into their study they’ll begin to develop a level of relational connective tissue. They’ll be looking forward to their meeting. In most cases they’ll actually be mindful of the fact that “there are only 2 more weeks” and they’ll begin to ask if “there’s anything after this?” If you choose a study that is similar to what they’re currently using (i.e., DVD-driven, on a topic they’ll enjoy, limited prep required, etc.), they’ll be more likely to continue. See also, What’s Next? When (and how) to Promote the Next Study and Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
Fourth, help them do the calendar work as part of their meeting. This may seem a little over-the-top prescriptive, but trust me, one of the most important steps you can take to help new groups sustain is to help them plan their next meetings. This is especially true when there are holidays or long breaks in the picture. For example, if you’ve launched a wave of new groups with a fall church-wide campaign you need to be aware of and help new leaders and new groups proactively plan for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. For example, if they begin a 6 week study in the 4th week of September, they’ll be ready to start a new 6 week study the first week of November. They might be able to meet 2 or 3 more times before Thanksgiving, but will not be able to finish before the holidays. Guiding your newest groups to take out their calendars and plan a Christmas party, an opportunity to serve together, and when their first meeting in January is (so they can finish their 2nd study) is essential! See also, Skill Training: Help Your Small Group Survive the Holidays!