Small group ministries live in constant tension between fellowship and evangelism. We want small group members to develop deep relationships, but we also need to integrate new people into groups. Many churches handle integration of new people by asking existing groups to add new members or to break up and multiply into two or more smaller groups so they can add new members. All too often the result is that group members resent the intrusion, and a frustrated small group point person has to try continually to sell a concept to the small groups that they simply do not buy. We have found that it is better for all concerned to start new groups than for existing groups to multiply.
So how do we integrate new people? In short, through campaigns. We have grown to more than 3,500 adult small groups by using campaigns to launch new groups each year. Since 2002, campaigns have increased small group participation at our church from 30 percent to 120 percent—seriously! Since 2004 we have had more people in small groups than attend our weekend services. Rather than taking energy from our small groups by forced division, the campaign approach focuses on relationships, not multiplication.
We also do not subscribe to the theory that a small group needs to be kept at an optimum size. Some people are just natural gatherers. They start out with a few people in their small group and then keep inviting others until quite soon they have twenty or thirty people jammed into their house every Tuesday night.
At Saddleback, we don’t penalize people who are able to gather others around them. Instead, we encourage groups to become any size they want and then equip them for health in spite of their size. We believe ratios are more important than size, so through subgrouping we help maintain ratios of attendees to leaders at optimum levels so that participation and group health are not jeopardized. In other words, we tell our small group leaders they can grow their group as big as they like and we’ll show them how to foster an environment for life-changing, healthy community (this is discussed in detail in chapter 8).
Gladen, S. M. (2011). Small groups with purpose: how to create healthy communities. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.