Conventional Wisdom: The best way to increase the number of small groups in a church is to split existing groups.
Reality: Through the semester-based system and the practice of apprenticing, you can multiply groups naturally by multiplying leaders.
What kind of images does the word “split” conjure up for you? Chopping up wood, maybe? Bad relationships? Bad hair? Nothing positive. “Split” is rarely used in conjunction with anything good. Yet many church leaders insist on “splitting” their groups in an effort to grow. Some, who have recognized the problem with this traditional terminology, say “multiply” instead. But the heart of their actions is the same. They aren’t changing their practices, just the label. No matter what they call it, they are trying to grow groups by breaking them apart from the inside out.
The majority of churches doing small groups have fallen into the “splitting” trap, because it is grounded in conventional wisdom. They usually employ the idea in one of two ways: The first is to encourage group members to keep bringing new people in each and every week until the group is too large and has to split. The second is to let a group meet indefinitely until it starts to die of natural causes. Then half of the group goes one way and half goes another, each with the intention of growing new groups with the seeds of the old. Both of these approaches are unnecessarily messy, drawn out and inherently negative. There is a better way!
In Big Idea #4, we detailed the many reasons why a semester-based system is the most effective way to operate small groups. Not only does the system get more people involved by working with our already established calendars and life-flow, but it also grows groups naturally. If you learn to put the system we present in this book in place, you never have to split (or multiply) a group again. Instead of going in and breaking apart an existing, ongoing group in the name of growth, you let each semester run its course and identify new potential leaders for the next time around from those naturally ending groups. Then you will automatically have groups growing out of each other, because you are identifying new leaders in every group every semester.
A set start and end date for each semester allows you to multiply leaders on a regular schedule. And it makes your people comfortable joining, and changing, groups. They know that an end to the group is in sight when they sign up. As a matter of fact, that is probably what gives many of them the freedom to actually take the step.
Too often, as church leaders, we get so wrapped up in what we need to do to grow our people and our churches that we forget about the basics of human psychology—we forget about how God created us. We cannot work against the way people are wired. If we try to, we will always be fighting an uphill battle. Think about it from the perspective of your group members, especially those who are taking a leap of faith to get into a group in the first place. The mere idea of “splitting” the group when it becomes too large is scary for them. Maybe you feel like it shouldn’t be, but it is. The way they see it, they don’t have a say in the split or a solid date in front of them of when it is going to happen. Even though they may understand the positive benefits of a potential split, it still makes them uncomfortable. It breeds resistance.
On the other hand, if your people sign up for groups with a clear beginning and end date, they won’t feel like the rug is being pulled out from under them when it is time for the group to stop.
They are planning on it. They are excited that when the next semester rolls around, they can sign up for another group that interests them, fits their schedule or has a leader they’d like to study with. They’ll see others they have been in past groups with stepping up to be leaders. Perhaps they’re even thinking of doing the same the next semester. When you give people the parameters of a start and end date, you open a world of potential and possibility that is stagnated by long-term groups. The natural ebb and flow of each semester allows you to multiply groups without difficulty and negativity.
Searcy, N., & Thomas, K. (2010). Activate: an entirely new approach to small groups. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
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