By far the most powerful tool for keeping our back door shut and making the church sticky has been our commitment to sermon-based small groups.

In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups.

Since 1985 that number has equaled at least 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.

Let me explain how we arrive at that number. My bet is that many of you are as suspect of small group numbers as I am. Besides the usual evangelistic exaggeration, it seems to me that most of the time what’s reported is the number of people who signed up to be in a small group, not the number who actually come.

I’ve had friends tell me that thousands are in their small group ministry. But when I go snoop around to discover how they do it, more often than not I find they aren’t doing it. But they sure did have great sign-ups.

To keep ourselves honest and to give ourselves an accurate benchmark to compare with year after year, we use the following formula to determine how many are in our groups.
First, we only count groups that meet under the umbrella of our small group ministry. Like any church, we have lots of folks who meet in other settings: accountability groups, service groups, Bible studies, and the like. But we don’t count them, because we have no accurate way to keep track of what’s going on or the ebb and flow of who’s involved and who’s dropped out.

To determine our percentage in small groups, we take the average weekend adult attendance in the month of October and figure out what 80 percent of that number is. Then we check to see how many people are in our growth groups (the name we use for our organized small groups). For us, this number should equal or exceed the 80 percent figure every year. So far it has.

Occasionally, we’ve temporarily slipped below the 80 percent mark (and I’m sure we will again someday). Each time, it has called for an all-hands-on-deck meeting. Since we see these groups as the hub of our ministry—more important than even the weekend services—we’ve stopped to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Each time, we were back above 80 percent by the next quarter.

Now, I don’t know what your ideal small group percentage should be. We certainly don’t think 80 percent is any sort of sacred number. It’s just our number.

Every church and every community is different. A low number in one setting might be amazingly healthy in another. For instance, churches with a long history of adult Sunday school will always have a lower percentage of small group involvement than churches where small groups are the only option for fellowship and growth. It’s not a matter of spirituality; it’s a matter of competition for time and resources.

Osborne, L. W. (2008). Sticky church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

My core ministry is writing Bible Study lessons. If I can serve you in this way, I’d love to help. Cost is negotiable. Think in terms of what you pay your Pastor for half a day. Contact me at or 575.650.4564