6 Moments to Engage Families in Small Groups

It happened again.

You just made the same small group announcement.
Sure, it happened on a different Sunday, during a different series. However, you just made that same hope-full announcement and received that same life-less response.
All across today’s church, leaders are saying more, yet somehow congregations are hearing less.

Every prop and trick lay used, relegated to a back-of-the-stage pile of ineffective effort. The funny videos made lots of people laugh, but no one dropped their carefully curated “perfect life” façade to live in heart-level relationships. The moving testimony video made plenty of people cry, but no one took that first, fear-fueled step into schedule-wrecking community.

Our best, most creative emphasis and announcement efforts bounce harmlessly off the Teflon-strong force field of the family calendar. For most in today’s church, a crisis-level lack of family engagement in groups boils down to this: the felt-need of life in community has yet to surpass the real-pain of an over scheduled life.

All of the church-speak generic “life together” reasons for “living in community”through “life groups” ring hollow as cul-de-sac gatherings, travel team parent bonding, and friends (with boating benefits) deftly imitate true and Gospel-centered relational connection.

After all, who needs yet another night away with yet another group of people?

We make the announcements but fail to articulate the value of community, especially with other people experiencing life-change. We promote the seasonal sign-ups, but neglect the most natural entry-points during life-stages.

Consider the many, fear-inducing moments of change and seasons of adjustment that every family experiences. Most are perfect opportunities to leverage the wisdom and comfort of community as a real and natural need to be a part of a group.

Here are six life-stage opportunities to expand engagement in small group life:

Newlywed / Engaged Couples. The first friends as a couple are typically life-long. Leverage premarital counseling and intensive wedding preparation seasons to focus young lovers on building depth of community into their marriage, not simply crafting Pinterest-worthy moments into a ceremony.

Expecting Parents. Parents-to-be, especially when it is their first child, are usually scared to death and more open to asking questions and being influenced by parents who have “been there, done that.” Working together, the preschool minister and groups leader have a natural opportunity to encourage and resource parents into group life.

Baby Dedication. More than preparing for a Sunday moment, this is a natural time to gather families in a small-group environment as a prerequisite to participation. Gather new parents to discuss a book or parenting bible study for 4-6 weeks before the Sunday morning ceremony. Church leaders can reinforce gathering in a home as more important than standing on a stage, and see those groups continue for years.

Kindergarten / Grade School. The tear-filled eyes of parents driving away from the campus after dropping their “couldn’t possibly be this old already” child at school are indications of shared emotions. They are also likely indications of an openness to prioritize time with other parents wiping their eyes as well. Giving parents a place to do more than cope or commiserate, groups in this life stage encourage connection and iron sharpening. Start the conversation by introducing parents to the children’s ministry while at the same time introducing them to other parents just as scared and hopeful as they are.

Middle / High School. Puberty, dating and social media… enough said. Parents with children entering middle school or high school need help, and quickly. As your next group of youth age-up into the student ministry, do more than just meet with parents and talk at them. Make it a goal to get those parents talking to each other and finding common ground together. Convene a round table on important topics, and spin off discussion groups that can grow into meaningful small groups or bible study classes.

College / Empty Nest. The last 18+ years have been spent focused on successfully getting their children out of the nest, and prayerfully staying out. Now these suddenly purposeless parents struggle to reconnect and establish the new normal once their baby birds finally fly off. Graduation Sundays offer a great chance to celebrate each student, but also a great connection with the parents wondering “what’s next.” What if leaders offered one or two strategic gatherings over the summer to prepare parents for this new normal, all the while pointing to a Fall season of group life?

Families in your church are physically, emotionally, and spiritually right where you have led them to be… in groups and not.

Now is the time to stop thinking about small groups in ways that work on a ministry calendar or for a pastoral preference.

Now is the time to start engaging families during the seasons and moments in life that actually matter to them.

Now is the time to truly engage people in meaningful Gospel-centered community, not just make that same small group announcement.

Learn more about engaging people in a Gospel-centered community: Connect with an Auxano Navigator.

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Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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