By Chris Surratt
I will never forget that night as I stood on a stage in the gym where we were hosting our first ever connect event. A connect event is basically speed dating for small groups. People could come and experience what a group was like in a neutral setting before fully committing to show up at someone’s house for six weeks. We set up round tables across the gym where different types of groups would be represented with leaders and hosts sitting at each table. A person could walk around and talk to the leaders before choosing a table to sit at and begin community.
This was our first event of its kind, so we planned for around 200 to 300 people to show up. And that number was stretching the capacity limit of the small gymnasium in the Baptist church we leased for this campus. Everything was ready. Our team was excited to see this new strategy put into reality after months and months of planning.
And — it was complete chaos.
Instead of the 200 to 300 people we were expecting, somewhere around 450 people eventually squeezed their way down the narrow stairs from the auditorium into the gym. We quit counting once the panic set in. As I stood on the stage ready to start the event, I observed a quiet, reserved woman burst into tears in the middle of the room and make a sprint to the door, probably to never give our small groups another chance.
It was in that moment I knew we had to come up with alternative on-ramps to groups other than this massive, extroverted friendly approach. There are hundreds of people we are missing by taking a “one size fits all” approach to getting people into community.
From day one at the church I serve at, the vision for small groups has always been to have at least 80 percent of our adult attenders in a group. That is a daunting number for our staff and volunteers who are charged with the mission, but we continue to hold tight to the idea that sustained life change happens best within the context of community.
If we truly believe everyone should be in groups, we have to start thinking beyond the typical church member who would brave our connection systems to eventually sit in a stranger’s living room. There are people on the fringes of our churches not currently being invited into community.
Some of these people will make us uncomfortable. They will challenge our small group leaders. But they will never be reached if we continue to pretend they don’t exist. Consider these two groups you may need to approach differently:
Because I am an introvert by nature, I understand the fear that sets in with the thought of showing up at a house every week to share my deepest thoughts with a room full of extroverted people. If we are going to convince people like me that small groups are beneficial, it’s going to take a different approach. We have to be intentional about creating environments with the least amount of resistance.
Instead of forcing introverts to show up to our extroverted connect events, offer a few low-pressure options to joining groups:
- Give them the opportunity to fill out an information card on Sunday morning and drop it in the offering basket at the end of the service.
- Provide a list of available and open groups on a website or in a book they can take home to look over. This gives them the time to think through the options before committing to a group.
If we are going to keep introverts connected beyond that first awkward meeting, our group leaders have to be trained differently. A majority of our training assumes everyone attending groups is ready to talk and begin community immediately. This is definitely not true for most introverts. Just like we need space to make a decision on joining a group, we need space to enter into the conversation once we are there.
We have absolutely no problem with starting women’s groups at our church. Our connect events are full of tables with the pink balloons signifying new women’s groups. Men’s groups, however, are a different story. A lot of guys’ first impression of groups is that they will be forced to be vulnerable and quite possibly hold hands with another person at some point during the meeting. Neither one of those options are appealing to most dudes.
If we are going to reach men with groups, we have to flip the stereotype. After all, the first biblical small group was a group of 12 guys that dropped everything to follow Jesus and change the world together. We need guys to believe it’s possible to do it again.
We have to stop expecting guys to give up who they are to conform to our vision of what they should be. Take a look at what a few dudes did in the Bible:
- David fought battles with his Mighty Men.
- Jesus took a group of fishermen and went fishing with them.
- Paul made tents with Aquila in Corinth.
Give a group of men the freedom to add God into what they are already doing and there is no stopping them. How powerful could our men’s groups be if they discovered their purpose? They might just change the world. Again.
Chris Surratt is the pastor of ministries at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn., where he oversees and helps guide kids, students, local/global good, and groups across five campuses. Chris is passionate about helping people find their next steps toward God within the context of community. He also works with Leadership Network in creating collaborative learning environments for churches from across the world. He blogs regularly at ChrisSurratt.com on the subjects of community, discipleship and leadership.