The only thing more frustrating than trying to get married couples to commit to a regular small group is convincing them that your group needs to multiply.
A few years ago, our church started its first marriage small group for couples. These couples had some friendship history, which helped get things started.
But despite having known each other for a while, there was still the awkward tension of starting structured and intentional time together on a regular basis.
Start with Leadership
A critical component to the early days of any small group is leadership.
Inevitably there will be a moment when everyone in the room needs someone to give organization and direction to the conversation or activities of the evening. The leader doesn’t have to be the smartest or most biblically trained person in the room—he or she simply has to have a clear understanding of the purpose of small group.
People attending small group want to feel as though they belong, have a group of people who care about them, and aren’t wasting their time. If all three of these areas are met, something amazing happens.
Not only do the couples prioritize the time together, they actually start to see the group as a place other people they know need to be.
Getting on the Same Page
A few things need to be established in the early days of a marriage small group. Each member of the group must be on the same page concerning the status of the group. Is the group open or closed? In other words, are we open to adding new couples?
If the group is open to new members, a process needs to be established and followed by all current members. If this isn’t clear, it could become a limiting factor to the transparency and relationship of everyone in the group. There might be seasons of life, or certain curriculum topics that may lead to a pause on the addition of new couples.
Expectations for participation and confidentiality need to be established up front. While some folks have zero hesitations about pouring his or her heart out, many people take a while to open up. There might even people some who seem as though they only sit and listen week after week.
Regardless of any individual’s willingness or ability to share, respect and care need to be high priorities.
Create Leadership Opportunities
The current leader of any group needs to lead group in such a way that provides opportunities for members to step up. This will help the group become less leader-centric, and develop potential future leaders.
If your intention is to multiply your group in the future, this topic needs to be a regular part of communication. Unfortunately, even if you cast vision from the very first gathering for multiple groups in the future, any group that has grown close and walked through challenging circumstances will initially resist change.
After our initial group of four couples grew to nine, we knew it was past time to multiply. Content and geography can help cast vision for the need for new groups.
Even if someone doesn’t want to change, seeing the need for a group discussing a specific topic, or establishing a group in another part of town helps people take the leap into the unknown.
Pick a Time to Launch
Launching these new groups at an optimum time of the year also helps.
Many groups take summers to slow down the frequency of meetings. We also make these summertime gatherings intentionally more social. This gives a prime opportunity to invite new families to meet the current group members without the intensity of deep spiritual or personal conversations.
Fall and first of the year tend to be seasons in which people are open to trying something new, and self-improvement. Creating a clear and easy on-ramp for small groups in these seasons can help stimulate growth and create a natural lifecycle for small groups in your church.
I firmly believe that life change happens most effectively in the context of a small group. In the end, the willingness of small group members to attend and engage will ultimately determine the overall success of a group.
How does your church point married couples to small groups?
Phillip is a pastor in Rock Hill, South Carolina. After two decades of family ministry and worship ministry in churches across the southeast, Phillip planted Grace Collective Church in 2014. He and his wife, Anita, were married in 1999, and are the proud parents of four children.