How to Get 90% of Your Visitors to Join Small Groups

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One of the many helpful concepts in The Purpose Driven Church is the idea of moving people from the…

  • Community to the Crowd
  • Crowd to the Congregation
  • Congregation to the Committed
  • Committed to the Core

The biggest gap in this chain, according to research I have done, is getting worship attenders to stick around. The best way to get worship attenders to stick around is to get them into small groups.

How then do we get worship attenders into small groups? Here is an observation I made a few years back. (Excerpt from my book, You Can Double Your Class in Two Years or Less.)

Fasten your seat belt, friend, because this is the most high-powered approach we have. I do not know anything that works better than giving Friday nights to Jesus. Giving Friday nights to Jesus will reach more people in less time than any method I know.

The really unbelievable thing is that giving Friday nights to Jesus is more fun than Disney Land. You wouldn’t think a ministry could be so effective and be so much fun. But isn’t it just like God to make something so enjoyable and so effective at the same time. Sometimes, he makes it easy for us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4) 

We didn’t dream this ministry up, God lead us into it through his sovereign working out of the circumstances of our lives. And if I had not seen it in action, I may have never been convinced of its effectiveness. Here is how it works. 

We used to have our friends over on Friday nights to play cards. We would have dessert, tell jokes, and play games together. One day I suggested to my wife that we invite a couple who had visited the church to join us on Friday night. We did, and we had a good time. During the entire evening, we never said anything about church or the Bible or anything remotely religious. But, do you know what? They picked up on the fact that we were all from the same small group. The next week they started attending that small group. They joined the church a few weeks later. Now, he is leading a group himself. And they would both tell you that they were not living the disciple’s life before they played cards and ate dessert with us that night. 

A few weeks later, we invited another couple over. We played cards, we laughed, we ate dessert, we had a good time. Guess what? Almost immediately, they visited our small group. After a few weeks, they joined the church. They too would tell you they were not living the disciple’s life before we played cards with them. 

After six months of this, I did a little research. I discovered that forty-five couples who were potential small group members had visited the church during that time. We were able to have ten couples to our house to play cards. Nine out of these ten joined the church and became involved in our group. (We created a number of new groups along the way.)

Out of the remaining thirty-five, only three had joined. In rough numbers, 90% joining groups vs. 10% joining. I don’t know of any method more effective in assimilating visitors than this hospitality ministry. 

That is why I say, if you want to double your class every two years or less, give Friday nights to Jesus. Have your friends over. Play cards. Eat dessert. Tell jokes. Laugh. Have a good time. But most of all, include an outsider couple. Ministry has never been so much fun. 

This ministry is based on sound church growth thinking: people are not interested in a friendly church; they are looking for friends. That is what we were to the couples we had over to our house. We were friends to them, and they were friends to us. When we had our babies, they were at the hospital. They became our friends. William Hendricks discovered that people who leave the church often do so because they hunger for community. “They dream of being a part of an intimate group of believers,” he writes. “They want to share life together with a handful of others where they can know and be known.” Giving Friday nights to Jesus creates the kind of community that people long for. 

Let me answer a couple of obvious questions. No, it does not have to be on Friday night. You do not have to play cards. You might take people out to lunch. You might go bowling or play golf. You might go out after church with them. But, do something fun with them. Do whatever you do with your friends. But include some outsiders in your life. These outsiders may be newcomers to the faith, or believers who are moving to town. 

The hard work of having fun 

I Peter 4:9 commands, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” “Without grumbling” means that sometimes people will come to your house and their rowdy kids will tear up your play room and not offer to clean it up. Offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes you will invite people over and they will promise to come and then not show up. Offer hospitality without grumbling. Sometimes they will be social bores, obnoxious, or rude. Offer hospitality without grumbling. 

One time we had four couples lined up to come over and play cards. None of them showed up. I got mad. I was disobedient to the command to refrain from grumbling. I got on the phone and called one of them. “Where are you? Why aren’t you here?” I really let him have it. He joined our group anyway and has since become a group leader. That is testimony to the grace of God. 

The Bible commands, “Get in the habit of inviting guests home for dinner.” (Romans 12:13b, LB) If we will simply do what this command says, we will see tremendous fruit. That is what is all comes down to, doesn’t it? Just being obedient to what God called us to do. It is amazing how much of church growth comes down to doing what God told us to do. You Can Double your group in two years or less if someone in your group will give Friday nights to Jesus.