Ministry Spotlight: MOPS International

 

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This month, across the country and in many parts of the word, mothers of presechoolers are gathering at local churches for fellowship, support, encouragement, resources, and relationships.  An exciting facet is that Jesus is always invited too.

When my husband and I relocated to a new city, over an hour away, we didn’t know a single person here.  At that time we had an 8 year old and a 4 year old… however within just a few months I found out our third was on the way.  We were still trying to find a church home, our neighborhood didn’t have any other families with young children, and I was so very alone.   My first thoughts were:  “I need to find a MOPS group”.

I was already familiar with MOPS from my previous city and I knew that finding a local group would be a great way for me to meet people in my community that were in the same stage of life.  I also knew that MOPS groups were made up of women from various churches, which gave me an opportunity to be a part of a group while we were still searching for our home church.  For me, MOPS was a way to plug into community.

Over the last 17 years, I have watched women come to MOPS for many reasons.  What I also saw was how much MOPS became an avenue that led women and their families into the church.  MOPS Moms would sign their kids up for VBS.  The next year they were signing up as VBS volunteers.  They would trickle into family or kids events at the church, and then you would begin to see them at church on Sunday mornings.

There were some moms who ended up staying in our MOPS group, but their families would attend a church closer to their home.  Some would even start MOPS groups in their new church home.  MOPS is a blessing to both the mothers who are served and the churches in which they become part of the community.

Many communities, like our own, have MOPS groups with waiting lists because they’ve reached maximum capacity.  MOPS is one of those ministries, that in my opinion, you simply can’t have enough of.  Staring a MOPS group is an easy process that begins with the desire to serve our mothers with preschool aged children.

If you are interested in starting up a MOPS group in your church and community, visit their website or speak with another local MOPS leader.

 

 

A Heart of Worship

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We are excited this weekend to have a new speaker at one of events.  Sheila Thomas is going to be sharing with our local leaders about the importance of having worship as part of our Women’s Ministry events.

Do you put much thought, as a Women’s Ministry Leader about incorporating worship into your events?  Whether you are choosing a formal worship event, that is all about singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, or having a few minutes dedicated to opening an event in worship… here are a few quick thoughts to consider.

Events tend to be a place where we feel very comfortable inviting guests.  These guests may not be familiar with old hymnals, your church’s go-to song list, or even what is being played on local Christian stations.  Therefore:

  • Look for songs that are easy and do not have complex melodies that are hard to follow.
  • Select songs that use more common vocab words vs. “Christianese”, so that our guests understand what it is they are singing.
  • Print out the lyrics or have the lyrics displayed on a projection screen for those who are unfamiliar, never assume people have memorized the lyrics to a common song or can follow along.
  • Even though women do tend to naturally sing at a higher octave than men, consider the untrained voice may have difficulty with high notes and use them sparingly.
  • Consider the theme of your event, the emotion you want to evoke from the women, and select songs that fit the theme or desired response well.
  • Don’t be afraid to bring in a male worship leader for a women’s event.
  • If your church worship team is taxed for time already, consider using someone from the body who has this gift but can’t commit to the regular schedule of the worship team.  There may also be someone from your youth group that could lead worship.
  • Contact local Christian Colleges with music programs for potential worship leaders.   Many of these colleges require volunteer hours of their students, and leading worship may count.  This is a win for the student, to gain more hours.  It’s a win for the ministry too, as it helps offset budget concerns.  Make sure to ask the college if you are allowed to compensate the student for travel time/expenses or give a monetary thank you gift even though they are volunteering.
  • Consider balance in the planning stages regarding how much time you want to allot for worship songs, where in the course of the program do you want to utilize them (beginning, throughout, ending).

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Many thanks to Ligonier Ministries and their magazine “Table Talk“, for gifting the women in attendance this weekend a copy of their back issue Worship Matters“.  It is a great addition to our speakers thoughts on why we need to incorporate worship in to our programs.  It’s a valuable resource on a beautiful topic.

Small Group Series – Q & A

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By Gena McCown, Co-Founder Women’s Ministry Council

We’ve come to the end of our series, however this series couldn’t possibly answer or address every question or need on the subject.  We are going to close this series by answering questions that were submitted earlier in the series, and hopefully in doing so … we’ll fill the gaps.

Q:  What is the difference between a Small Group, Life Group, Adult Sunday School, and Bible Study?  Do we need them all, and if so why?

A:   To a certain extent, it really is semantics.  In many churches these terms are interchangeable,   Small Groups and Life Groups are especially.  Generally speaking, Small Groups and Life Groups are intentional groups of church members (usually under 12 people) that are “going through life” together.  They may study the bible, a helpful book, or even weekly topical studies together.  The purpose of the group is spiritual growth, relationship building, and accountability.  Bible Studies and Adult Sunday School, are more akin to traditional models of group study.  They are generally larger, and stick to scriptural study.  This may be in the way of expository (line by line exploration of the scriptures) or using printed Bible Study curriculum.    Over the years, the lines have smudged a bit and Bible Study Groups may elect to study a helpful book, or a small group may grow into a “large group”.   I believe they all share the same goal for spiritual growth, although small groups and life groups create more relationships building opportunities.

Q:  How do I get people to sign up for my Small Group?

A:  There are a few ways to get interest built in your small group.  First, I think we need to do a better job of talking up our small groups before the official sign up period.  This also includes making sure that we are clear about the details, date… time… place… number of weeks… childcare… cost… etc.  Bring it up among your friends, post it on your facebook page, etc.  In the churches we should also make a purpose to highlight small groups leading up to the signs ups with intro videos playing between services, information in the church lobby, etc.   

Second, personal invitation is a great way to bring people into the fold, it tells the women you encounter that you want to get to know them better or would like to share this experience of growing in faith with them.  One thing that can happen (it’s happen to me personally) is that as life groups grow and leaders are developed your personal circle of friends may become life group leaders.  You can actually run out of women to invite, because you don’t know them.  This means you need to get intentional about meeting new women in the church.  

Third, we have to remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind”.  Many people have the intention of signing up for small groups & will forget.  It is important that when we are announcing small groups at church or a women’s event that we have a way for them to sign up immediately.  A kiosk in the lobby that directs to a digital sign up or an old fashioned table with clipboards set up in the lobby, either are great ways to get the women to sign up before they get home and life gets in the way.  Another option is a Small Groups Kick-off Brunch.

Q:  How do we fund our small groups?

A:  If small groups are part of the church vision, then when it comes to the purchasing of leader materials (video, leader guide, etc) this is an investment the church or Women’s Ministry makes.  Then, each participant can purchase their own workbook.  Many publishers off bulk discounts on materials that could save the participants money, but this requires collecting the $ in advance or the church purchasing materials that may go unused if the sign up is less than expected.  I suggest picking a publisher that has a good array of materials, so that you can build an account and relationship with that publisher. 

Present your small group menu well in advance for your church members to sign up, and take payment when they sign up.  This allows you to only order the materials you need.  People who have paid at the time they sign up are more likely to stick through the commitment as well.  Then, when the Small Group meets for the first time, you can distribute their books.    This also helps your leaders know exactly how many people to plan for.   When we allow people to sign up, and then purchase their own workbook… we have no clue on who is actually going to follow through & show up.   When we require our Small Group leaders to fund the group themselves, we lessen the number of leaders who are going to volunteer to lead. 

If you are a small church, church plant, or a ministry independent of a church… funding the study may not be in the budget.  Then, as a Small Group leader consider dispersing the cost of the materials among everyone in the group.  $100 leader kid, $10 workbook… 10 women in the group, everyone pays $20.  Or if the church can budget $50 towards the leader kit, each woman pays just $15.    Also consider, if you are on a tight budget, video series where you don’t need the workbooks (or vice versa).  Share materials with other Small Group Leaders, or find a larger church you can establish a relationship with and borrow materials.  Or, teach an expository or weekly topical study that doesn’t require anything more than your bible.

Q:  How can I lead good discussions in our group vs. asking “what does this scripture say”? 

A:  I think discussion questions are a huge trip up for some small group leaders, which is why they like to purchase curriculum versus writing/teaching their own.  In this case, the leader guide generally has discussion question prompts in place and you are following a script.  I believe this is a great option for new leaders, because they can get their feet wet in the process of small group leading.  For seasoned leaders, what I suggest is to begin with the purpose you chose this particular study.  What is the goal, what do you hope the women achieve by completing this study independently and as a group.  Once you identify your goal for the study, you can then create questions that are going to move the women toward that goal.  Creating questions that gently guide them to the “ah-ha” moment.  In fact, this is why I strongly suggest having your goal in place before you even pick the study.  If you are picking a study because it’s popular, or “looks good”, there isn’t a goal in place.  Without a goal, you will struggle to come up with engaging questions.  With a goal first, you will find your questions are in place, and you select a study that helps answer those questions.

If you questions are not your thing, you can always ask someone else in your group to lead that portion.  I must admit, some people are just better at it than others.  You could even assign that task to multiple women in the study, each week a different person is tasked with writing the discussion questions.  Also, when you preview the material ahead of the group vs. watching it for the first time with them… take notes.  The points you thought were worth writing down can become the launching point of the questions you ask.

Q:  When should a Small Group be “OPEN”, “CLOSED”, or “DROP IN” in regards to attendance/members.

A:   There are only two Small Groups in which I think “DROP IN” is appropriate.  1st, is the very first week.  If someone isn’t certain if this particular study is something they want to commit to, allow them to drop in for the first session and view the introduction with the group.  2nd, is if your Small Group is a topical study that changes from week to week.  This allows the women to drop in only on the topics that interest them.  I love this option for seasoned believers or busy women who are trying to plug in but their schedule doesn’t allow for a long term commitment. 

Open Groups are great for big topics.  For example if you church offers Dave Ramsey Financial Peace as a Small Group, this is a perfect for Open Groups.  Expository or Book By Book Study Groups are also appropriate for Open Groups, as they are working through the scriptures.  Open Groups are great for new leaders who are leading their first small group, or leaders who are more interested in getting to know other women in the church.  Open Groups are important to have so that the women who attend your church have an opportunity to find their fit within a group of women vs. being thrust into a group where they can’t connect.

Equally, Closed Groups are also important to have in the church because these are the groups where deeper fellowship and accountability occur.  Most Closed Groups start that way, a group of women who decided to meet together as a Small Group.  However they are not advertising their group to the church, but letting you as the WM Leader know that they are part of a group.  Other Closed Groups start off as Drop In or Open Groups, that over time relationships began to form and they make the conscious decision to continue close the group to new members.  Closed Groups are important because the relationships that develop are deeper, there is accountability in this group, personal information begins to be shared, etc.  At this point it is important to protect that group by closing the group.  Then it is up to the leader and group to determine if, when, and who is added to the group. 

It is my belief that all three of these types of groups should be happening in your church.  Open Groups and Drop In Groups are the first stop usually for new members in the church, guests, etc.  This is where they can test the waters, get introduced to how small groups work, and find their fit.  Closed Groups are the ones where real relationships are developed, and I believe the long term goal for each woman in your church should be to move from an Open/Drop In Group to a Closed Group.  Our Small Group menus should be very intentional.

Q:  How Do I Refresh Interest After A Year?

A:  When interest starts to wane, the first question we need to really understand is WHY that happened.  Was the study too intense?  Too long?  Did we notice interest started to drop about half way through?  Or, did women disengage almost at the beginning?  Then we can move onto examining other possibilities.

If a study is too long, or too intense, it could just mean that the women need a break.  Either a literal break, taking a few weeks or months off.  Or, a break in the material itself and as a leader I need to find something a little bit lighter for our next round.   If we notice that somewhere between the beginning and middle, women were already disengaging… that is generally a good indicator that the study materials were lacking in some way.  Maybe the speaker on the video was not engaging, wasn’t understood, or the content seemed very dated.  It could be that the video was great, but the homework in between was monotonous or unchallenging.  On the other hand it could be that the homework was overwhelming.  I’ve experienced both.  This is why I stand firm on intentional small group study selections, we need to not just grab an interesting title off the shelf, but walk through it ourselves or seek suggestions from others.  You just never know what you are going to get.

If none of the above seems to be the case, my next suggestion is to ask the group.  Maybe their needs have changed, or it’s time to reevaluate the goal for the group.  If your goal as leader was to strengthen the marriages of your group members, and you have done six studies on a row relating to relationship building… maybe it’s time to mix it up.  Move to a study that actually is willing to talk about the physical aspects of marriage.  Has your group moved from young married couples to married couples with children.  Then it may be time to switch from studies on marriage to studies on parenting.  Talk to the group members and see what they want to study next.  If you’ve been leading expository studies on the Old Testament, maybe it’s time to take a jump forward to the Gospels for a bit.    Or, it may be time to bring in fresh faces and invite some new women to your closed group.  You may also need to consider that your group is ready to split, and begin leading their own groups.  Finally, you need to prayerfully consider if the Lord is prompting you to take a break.  It could be that you are entering a season of life where you are called to be the student. 

When interest wanes, something in the dynamic of the group isn’t working.  Once you have explored all of the questions about the form and function of the group, there are only technical questions left.  Such as… has our groups availability changed and we need to set a new day/time, has this group just met it’s purpose and it is time to disband entirely. 

The Small Group Series #3 – Materials

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By Gena McCown, Co-Found Women’s Ministry Council

Whether you are the Women’s Ministry Leader, or a Small Group Leader, the topic of small group and bible study materials is one worthy of serious consideration.  As a Women’s Ministry Leader, you may be charged with coming up with the Small Group plan for all of the women in your church.  Coming up with a list of approved choices or for your leaders or even selecting a church wide study for the women.  If you are a Small Group leader you may be seeking to take more charge in your own group, and select material on your own as the group progress.  Perhaps, you may be considering starting a small group with your friends outside of your church or a community group.

Whatever the reason you are shopping for study materials, it is good to have a guideline on how to wade through all of the options.  Years ago, it was much easier.  There were a handful of published women’s studies.  However, with the advances of technology, we are no longer confined to the studies on the shelves of our local Christian bookstore.  We have plenty of options through well known publishers to self published authors providing digital downloads.

In the sea of options how do we even begin to know which studies are biblically sound?  How do we even know what types of studies are appropriate for the women in our church?

WHAT TYPES OF STUDIES DO THE WOMEN NEED:

When I begin to look at materials for the women I lead in small groups, there are many things I take into consideration.  First, I have chosen to have groups that are open to new members coming in and out versus a closed group of women who are meeting together over a period of years.  This is a conscious decision on my part to make sure that new women in the church always have a study to jump into & to be able to cover a variety of topics.

Some things I take into consideration are:

  • Is there something going on in the world or even locally that requires exploring?  If we are seeing an increase of divorces in our community, perhaps it’s time to choose a study that helps build up marriages.  If your church is struggling with how to handle the topics of transgenderism or sexuality, maybe it’s time to take a bold step and start the conversation.
  • Will my group be comprised of women who are of similar age and stage as I am?  Or, do I have a group of women who vary in biblical knowledge or come from different stages of life?   If so, I’m not going to pick a parenting topical study if half of my group have never had kids.  I want to take into consideration the demographic of my group & their biblical knowledge.
  • Are there particular goals the church or the Women’s Ministry would like to see accomplished?  If the Pastor wants to have more small groups, then I want to have study options available that either train up more leaders or are easy ones for new leaders to step into.  If the church wants to see an increase in volunteerism in the church, we may want to look into more studies that explore using our gifts, community outreach, missions, etc.

WHAT IS THE BEST FORMAT FOR OUR CHURCH:

Your church may elect to have a small group menu that has a variety of topics, types of groups, availability, and frequency.   Or, your church may elect to have a very structured small group plan.  There are some churches that even have Small Group Pastors who oversee the groups. 

Some format options include:

  • All of the women (or church) choose a study to go through together collectively but broken up into their small groups.  Everyone is working the same book, at the same pace, but may have groups broken up by age, gender, stage of life, and different schedules of availability.   When they finish one study, the whole church then moves to the next study.
  • Each year, the first study of the season is done collectively by the church or women in the church, as explained above.  Then upon completion of that study, the groups independently pick their next study option.
  • Season to season, each group or leader is responsible for selecting the study materials.  Groups may be closed groups that meet consistently over time, or open groups that allow people to fluidly move in and out as the topics interest them.

Each of these options has great benefit to the church.  The first format option keeps all the church members on an even playing field.  They can even discuss their study progress with others not in their specific group, creating conversation and fellowship among the body.  The second option allows for the community of learning while also allotting for individuals to also study topics that are less general and more specific to their needs and interests. The third option is one that allows variety throughout the year, and as people’s needs change they can find a group that better suits it.  Additionally, the fluid movement between groups allows us to get to know more people in the church.  And, ultimately, if you sign up for a group that just isn’t the right personality fit, you can move out of it without hurting feelings.

EVALUATING THE MATERIALS:

Once you know what TYPES of materials you are looking for, and what FORMAT of study is going to fit for your church or Women’s Ministry program… then you can begin to sort through your option of MATERIALS.  Not every church or Women’s Minsitry is going to select the same TYPE or FORMAT for study, but the important thing that we should all agree on is that the most important aspect is the quality of the materials.  You can have a great looking calendar of studies to choose from, but if they are lacking quality and credibility, you would be better offering nothing.

The book, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, provides a great evaluation tool for determining if a study is the right fit for your ministry:

  • Is Scripture the authority of the materials? The best books are full of scripture quotations and are built around scriptural principles. Scripture is used to support/prove scripture. The scriptures should have more weight than the author’s personal opinions or experiences.

  • What is the doctrinal perspective? Does the book compromise any of the essentials of faith (creation, fall of man, virgin birth, sinless life of Christ, atonement, resurrection)?

  • Does the book teach salvation by grace through faith? Does the book support or compromise the need for repentance, reconciliation, and reliance on God? Does it confront sin, call for change, point us in the direction of sharing the gospel? Does it display total reliance on God as a lifestyle not “as needed”?

  • Who is the author? Do we know the author, their background, or reputation?

  • Who does the author quote? Authors quote who they read, and who they read influences them. It is important to know who the author looks to as a resource.

  • Is the book man-centered or God-centered? Is the emphasis on God and conforming to his image or to “be satisfied and happy”?

  • Is the book teachable and useful? We need to ensure our teachers are prepared and able to teach the materials. If it is delves into issues too deep for our teachers to understand, they won’t be able to communicate the lessons of the book. What will the book equip our women to know? Is there a workbook or lesson plan suggestion to help our teachers in the process?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Sit down with your Women’s Ministry Team (and Small Groups Pastor, if you have one) and figure out what your guidelines for studies will consist of.  You can clarify the above to the specifics of your group.  Then as you start your process of selecting studies, use these guideless to help eliminate those that do not pass the test.  Present a list of approved studies to your leaders before small group season starts, of course leave an open door for women to make suggestions to your team for future studies.  Some Women’s Ministry Leaders have created a list of approved study authors, so that the women know that anything by that author is already approved.  These authors usually include Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Kathleen Neilsen, etc.  Widely known, respected teachers.  If it is a newer author, it is worth vetting the materials.  Even an author that has made the best sellers list may not be the right study for your church, we shouldn’t assume the publishing company has the same vetting standards we do. 

Finally, I want to remind all of our leaders that there are the studies that women WANT and then the studies that women NEED.  When we make sure to pray over these selections, letting the Lord prompt our decision making, we are more certain that the studies are what they truly need.  That is our responsibility as leaders.  If they want something else, they have full freedom to study any materials they want outside of the church/ministry.  Remember, as teachers, we are accountable for what we teach to those who sit under us.

There are 2 installments left in the series. The last one will address the questions that have been submitted by our readers.  If you have not submitted your question yet, pop on over to our intro to the series and use the form today.

The Small Group Series #2 – Obstacles

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Written By:  Gena McCown, Women’s Ministry Council Co-Founder

Small Groups are a beautiful part of a successful Women’s Ministry program, however it can take some effort to get a program rolling.   This week, we are going to look through some of the obstacles we face in trying to get small groups started, maintain them throughout the year, and encourage growth toward the future.

To start with, we need to establish clear goals for our small group.

  1. The purpose of the small group is to help women in our church and community deepen their knowledge of the Word, through group study and individual study time.
  2. As the women deepen their knowledge of the Word, we help demonstrate how to apply Biblical principals to our every day lives.
  3. Additionally, the small group should foster a sense of community and fellowship that leads us into a relationship of vulnerability, trust, and accountability.

We also need to establish boundaries for our small group.

  1. Small group is a place to share our vulnerable selves, not to spread gossip about others not in the group under the guise of prayer requests.
  2. Small group is a sacred space of communion and we agree to keep our small group conversations within the confines of the small group.
  3. Small group is exactly that, a small group.  50 women are not in a “small group”, that is a bible study or fellowship ministry.  We need to have an expectation that growth will result in the formation of a new small group, splitting the members among them.

Once we have these basic parameters in place, we can then begin to look at what obstacles may come our way and how to address them as they arise.  There are a few things I have noticed over the years that are pretty consistent obstacles that show up in the small groups.  These obstacles show up from the preparation stages through the last day of your study, and I’m going to address them in that order.

We Lack Small Group Leaders

A huge struggle for many Women’s Ministry Leaders is getting enough women to lead small groups.  I’d like to first address the first half of this obstacles which is defining what you are looking for in your small group leaders.  Are you looking for a facilitator, which is a woman who is happy to host the study in her home or willing to use prewritten curriculum that requires no actual teaching or preparation on her part.  Or, are you looking for a small group teacher, which is a woman who is a seasoned believer who is willing to dig deeper into the scriptures and serve as a discipler.

Once you know what type of leaders you are looking for, it becomes easier to find them.  Why?  Because, now when you start asking women in your church you have a clear expectation of what you want from small group leaders.  I would suggest that both facilitators and teachers have their place in small groups.  Facilitators will generally guide the group through written curriculum, and are learning alongside those in their group.  There are less expectations on them to “have all the answers” and it is a great group for new believers.  Teacher led small groups are perfect for the women in your church that are looking to challenge themselves by digging through the scriptures in an expository style or even seeking the wisdom of seasoned believers on tough topics from the scriptures.

Additionally, if you are developing small group leaders… facilitating is a GREAT first step.  It allows the leader to familiarize herself with the general format of how a small group runs before putting her in charge of developing her own materials.  Which leads me to the next obstacle for small groups, leadership development and support.

We Lack Small Group Support

It is really easy to find a small group leader if you tell her that her only responsibility is to hit the play button on the VCR.  It is also much easier to tackle tough subjects that no one wants to teach if they know they don’t have to come up with their material on their own.  I’m doing this now myself, leading a study as a facilitator because I know this is an area that I too need help in.   It is harder to find leaders who are ready to teach a group, where the bulk of the preparation lies on their shoulders.  I do not believe this is because God doesn’t have the women in the church already… I believe it is because they lack the confidence to do it.

How often have you approached a women in your church to teach a small group and she replies that she doesn’t know enough about the Bible to lead a group.  How do you respond to it?  If you are like most leaders, you will ask for her to pray about it or give her the option of letting you know should she change her mind.  How many times have you followed her objection with the question:

Would you be interested in being trained to lead a small group?

If we never challenge our women to rise to the occasion, they may never do so.  If we have a plan in place to help them learn how to facilitate a small group, and then eventually teach a small group… we have opened up the potential of endless teachers.  Ask questions about why they don’t think they can lead.  You may find they feel Biblically illiterate, not certain how a meeting runs, concerned they can’t command the attention of the group, or they may think there are costs associated with the role which are not in their means. 

Solutions for this obstacle will begin with simply answering those objections.  Biblically illiterate, would they be willing to meet with you for 1:1 discipling?  Concerned about how to run a meeting or command attention, consider setting them up as a co-leader to an established leader you respect.   Concerned about material costs, then explain to them who is responsible for paying for the materials (the church, split among the participants evenly, everyone buys their own, or using materials the church already has in stock).

Support doesn’t stop after we have trained small group leaders, we need to continually develop them and encourage those leaders to also find and develop leaders in their group.  If you small groups take a break over the summer, use this time to put together a brief training for your leaders.  Find a book or develop your own material, if need be.  Check in with your leaders throughout the year to see if they are having any issues in their groups.  Consider having one of your Women’s Ministry Leader team dedicated to overseeing the small groups.

We Lack Interest in our Small Groups

It’s the week of small group sign ups and your group is filling up nicely.  Your first meeting goes off without a hitch, however by mid-study the number of women attending as decreased.  By the end of the study you are down to a few dedicated women.  Or, perhaps this scenario sounds more like your experience:  After weeks of promoting small groups, only a small percentage of the women in your church have signed up.  How can you have small groups if there are no women signing up?  Why continue them if the women are not committing to see it through until the end?

The first question we need to ask ourselves is a tough one, which is are the small groups important in this church at all?  I’ve noticed that there is a certain culture to churches where small groups are really successful.  The church is made up primarily of people who grew up in church and know how to “do church” without prompting.  The church is made up primarily of people who have a strong sense of community, and their church family is their biggest area of community.  In churches where I see small groups struggling, I notice these are churches with a larger percentage (not necessarily majority) of new believers.  I’ve also noticed that members of these churches are having their community needs met outside of the church.  They are involved in outside organizations, live in areas that are extremely busy offering a lot of options for socializing and fellowshipping, and may have a community of friends who either do not go to church at all -0r at least not all go to the same church. 

Another aspect affecting small groups, that I have begun to notice, is the attempt at churches to utilize technology to streamline sign ups.  I’ve had far more success getting women to sign up for ANYTHING when they can do it on the spot vs. online at home.  For no other reason than they forget, out of sight… out of mind.  Certain areas of the country are also populated with either older generations who are not computer savy or live in an area that is economically disadvantaged and those congregants lack access to computers to sign up digitally.  If you live in a major city, with lots of professionals and technology is common knowledge… online or app sign ups are perfect.  In other areas, if this is your goal, you are going to have to slowly transition to it.  Be sure to provide both options until you begin to see the change of habit.   This can including offering digital signs ups and old fashioned paper sign up forms.  Or, you can choose to set up some tablets in the church lobby for quick sign ups before they leave.  Have a volunteer there to help your older members with the process.

If you have made the sign up process simple, meaning everyone can see the details of the study (what it is about, when it meets, how much materials cost) and you have an easy way for them to sign up… and you still lack interest?  Then you may need to face the reality that Small Groups are simply not the method in which you are going to best disciple your women.  Perhaps they are more interested in workshops, retreats, conferences, and other events of this nature than long term group studies.  You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. 

The second question you will need to ask, when you see declining numbers, is whether or not the materials you are providing are of interest to the women in the church.  A church that is made up of 80% young families will definitely have success offering Parenting and Marriage related topics in their small groups.  However if the majority of your studies are taught by your older women, on the topic of Empty Nesters… you just won’t see the numbers you want.  We must be intentional about how many, and what types of groups we are offering.   If every study you offer is a video series from a major publisher, and your numbers are in decline, perhaps it is time to add in some expository groups or topical groups.  If every study group is held on weekday mornings, you are neglecting your working women.  Variety and diversity in the topics & scheduling will help increase the number of women attending.

We Lack Returning Participants

If you have noticed that your small groups are a revolving door in regards to attendance there are few immediate considerations.  First, women may be looking for their right fit.  Don’t take it personally if they leave and join up another group.  Be glad they are still in a group, and praise God that He will be sending someone else to fill that spot.  Second, women in our current generations are busier than ever before.  Perhaps your group was the perfect fit in the fall, but their spring season runs on an entirely different schedule.  Another group may be more convenient for spring, and you may see the women return to their original groups the following fall.  Third, women may be hopping groups based on the topics.  If you jumped from a Galatians study to one on parenting, don’t be surprised if the single ladies without kids jump ship to another study.  To combat this include your group members in choosing the next subject/topic for the group instead of selecting material that you are interested in and hoping they are too.

Something else to consider is this… these women may be seeking.  They know that they want to dig deeper into the word, but they are not sure what or how.  They may not even be able to articulate that they are searching or even what they are searching for.  However this study is just not “doing it” for them, and they drop out mid way.  In some respects we do need to allow our women the freedom to keep seeking, however our leaders need some sort of consistency for their group (especially if people are sharing personal details).  It is perfectly acceptable to either have the small group leader inquire as to why a member left, or if you have a Women’s Ministry Team member who oversees small groups to check into it.  Do so without judgement, but with the hopes of helping to guide them into a group that might meet their needs better.  This also may be a perfect candidate for 1:1 mentoring vs. joining a small group.

Ultimately the greatest solution to our Small Group Obstacles is COMMUNICATION.

  • Ask why someone is not willing to lead, facilitate, or teach a small group.  Offer a solution, by having a training plan in place.
  • Ask why a group member has left, and offer guidance into finding a small group or mentor relationship that is a better fit.
  • Ask your small group members for suggestions on what they would like to study as a group.
  • Ask yourselves honestly if Small Groups are the right fit for the church you are serving, or develop a plan to cultivate Small Group culture over time.
  • Ask yourselves about the quality, variety, and diversity of the materials, groups, and availabilities you are offering.  Seek to create a menu of Small Groups that fit the climate of your church.

***** In our fourth installment, we will cover obstacles that occur IN or DURING the course of small groups that are more individually based. *****