How to Start Small Groups in Your Church

By Ricky Wilson

New Year's is a great time to launch or relaunch your church plant's small group ministry. It will give your people deeper community, deeper connection and a healthier church – that plants other healthy churches!

A new year is always a great time to start new things. We set New year’s resolutions and goals because new dreams and new opportunities come with a new year! This is true in the church planting world.

We can use the new year as a time to get our church excited about a vision for the year or a new outreach strategy or, for some of us, maybe it’s a time to get our church excited about a new small group strategy!

Small groups have been hard for churches over the past two and a half years with Covid and the fear that came with it. A lot of our small groups were shut down, or perhaps Covid just created a lost vision for your small groups. Maybe you haven’t been able to launch groups yet.

Whatever the case, the approach of a new year is the perfect time to refresh or start your small group strategy.

My church is called ID Church. Our small group strategy is built around the Scripture, community and mission. We want people to walk into any group, anytime, and feel welcomed and connected. We use Scripture as the foundation, but for us, they are less about Bible study and more about community – meaning the Scripture is more practically talked about than studied. Then once a month, the groups actively take the Word and the community and go live it out together by serving in some capacity.

This works because we use a one-on-one discipleship strategy as our primary method of discipleship and then small groups serve as an additive to create that deep community with other believers. This model has pros and cons, as every group strategy does. No one group strategy fits every church. One thing I am sure of, however, is an ideal group strategy for your church plant culture can be found. You have to make it!

Healthy small groups create a healthy community for a church plant, which is essential to a solid church. As we see in Acts 2, the believers gathered, ate, fellowshipped and studied the Word together. This created a healthy body of believers.

When thinking about kicking off some new groups or refreshing a vision for groups, I believe kicking off a healthy small group structure for your church plant requires us to think about four things:

1. Vision – We all have heard the thousands of creative names churches have created for groups: cell groups, D-groups, community groups, city groups and so on. The names may be humorous, but every name was created to help carry the pastoral leadership’s vision. Our vision is “To see the body gather in an intimate community, be fed and go feed.” So for your church plant, what role do you seek them to serve in your church? Pray about it, then lay out that vision to begin structuring your small group strategy around it.

2. Essentials – What are the essentials in your groups, the non-negotiables and the things you want your groups to be built around? Our IDs are built around Scripture, intimate community and missional engagement. All our groups have these components and are trained on them, and you’ll notice these essentials also are found in our vision for our small groups. These essentials, along with the vision, give your small groups an identity and help the leaders to know how they need to lead the people and provide the members of the small groups a direction.

3. Structure – This is where you start to think about what you want your groups to look like and what size you want them to be. Some churches do a triad of three, some a max of 12 and some have no cutoff. Are they curriculum? Do you want them to use the Gospel Project or do you write your material? Are they more conversation based? Deciding the meeting time and location are essential: Are they meeting during the week or are they more of a traditional Sunday morning model? Do they meet in homes or on campus? Are they mixed-gender or gender-specific? Are they open – meaning they can be joined at any time? Or are they closed – meaning they meet for a set number of weeks and can only be entered at specific dates throughout the year? These things will help you to make your groups healthy and reproducible!

4. Development – Small groups are a great place to develop future leaders. They are a low-pressure environment where people can be trained and eventually lead their own group. This leads to multiplication of your groups, more groups throughout your city and more people experiencing Christ and community through them. This is the perfect setting to train future church leaders because it has so many components of leading a church. So how will you utilize small groups for leadership development? Is it through an apprentice program, where leaders take on an apprentice and train them to eventually do the same, or will it be a training ground where you train leaders and then deploy them to cut their teeth in leading? Whatever you choose to create healthy leadership development in your group will create a healthy, multiplying church plant!

New year, new excitement! This new year is a great time to launch or relaunch the small group ministry at your church plant. It will make a difference in your people. It will give them a deeper community, a deeper connection and a healthier church, which prayerfully will lead to other healthy churches being started!

Published December 5, 2022

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Ricky Wilson

Ricky Wilson, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, grew up with drug-addicted parents and was a drug dealer from age 12 to 20, when he heard the gospel for the first time and gave his life to Jesus. Since then, he has had a passion for church planting and moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 2017 to start ID Church. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children: Ellie, Titus and Haddie. God has been gracious and ID Church is planting three new churches in South Carolina in 2022, with plans for three more in 2023 in places like Paris and Los Angeles.