I believe small groups can be great outreach tools if we intentionally use them for that purpose. Here are several types of short-term small groups that I’ve seen churches use effectively for outreach – that is, they strategically invite unchurched and unbelieving neighbors and friends to attend, and they’ve found interest:
- Divorce Recovery. You’d hope that churches would not need to offer this kind of ministry, but divorce is a reality. People need help working through its repercussions, and even unchurched people are looking for help.
- Grief Recovery. So many issues cause grief – death, sickness, disaster, bankruptcy, wayward children, etc. A short class that teaches the Bible’s solution to dealing with grief can be a great ministry.
- Aging Parents. Both Pam and I are dealing with this reality now, as are many people. We don’t know the answers to all our questions. Talking to someone who’s already taken this journey would be helpful for us.
- Financial Direction. There are many options for dealing with financial issues, but there’s a reason for that: a lot of people need guidance in this area. Your church members know people to bring with them to such a study.
- Parenting ______ (e.g., Preschooler, Teens . . .). Every parent has a first trip through these stages of parenting, and most of us learn our lessons the hard way. There are people in your community who will be interested in this topic.
- Basic Bible Study. When your members invite unchurched people to a simple, clear Bible study like “What the Bible Says about _________” (e.g., marriage, homosexuality, debt, prosperity, evil, the devil, etc.), they may well find somebody who’s interested.
If you move in this direction, here are my practical, logistical suggestions to consider:
- Keep the study short – no longer than 4-6 weeks. In some cases, I would even consider a Friday night/Saturday morning, one weekend study.
- Use the BEST group facilitator you have. A boring, disorganized leader will kill a group before it ever gets traction.
- Enlist church members to make up part of the group. Don’t start the group until you have a few committed members who will not only attend, but also recruit unchurched and unbelieving folks to attend.
- Advertise the group well. Prioritize it. Tell the community about it. Convince people that their attendance will be worth their time – and then make it that good.
- Learn from each group. Evaluate each group, and improve the next one.
What thoughts would you add to this discussion?
There are two more groups frequently left out. If applicable, one is the (under)graduate student group. The other is the young (under 45) professionals group. (I did not say singles group because the most aren’t married and the unmarried people already know that most churches are mainly for married people with children.) This generally depends on if you are in a university town or city like Boston, that is full of MDs and PhDs doing residencies/fellowships. Both of these groups likely have or are attaining the highest levels of education and have the largest number of non- and anti-Christian friends and colleagues. However, I believe many church leaders and pastors are hesitant, if not fearful, of these groups of Christians. For starters, the old methods of teaching just one perspective won’t work with these groups as they will quickly ask questions of and read multiple perspectives from their friends, rabbis, Orthodox priests for the Eastern Christian viewpoint, Hindus and Buddhists. Secondly, they may look to the clergy or church leaders as one source of knowledge but expect the clergy/leaders to talk to them on a high level, answer their questions, and accept them as Christians and not as second- or third-class.
Thanks, Mark, for your input!