It may be you run a course that is well attended every year or you are running a course for the first time. It may be a lent or advent group, Alpha, a parenting course etc. You may want to offer something else to move on to afterwards to grow and develop further.
A small group that is created from Alpha may look very different in content from one created after a lent course, but the principles are the same.
Ideally the leaders will have been involved in the course itself (perhaps as a leader, speaker or host). They need to have agreed to it well in advance, so that they can receive any training or preparation needed to be ready to start.
As the course draws to an end, you invite people to join a small group to continue exploring together. It is particularly helpful if the group runs on the same day and time for continuity. Equally if you will be starting more than one group, different options are helpful.
A few positives:
- Core group to invite along.
- Can start with relevant material that follows on.
- Individuals have already been exploring together.
- Leaders have been involved with course and relationships.
A few potential drawbacks:
- Leadership skills needed in course and in small group may be very different.
- Time restraints to add any specific training in the weeks before.
- Only draws on specific group of people.
1. Consider the course you will be starting after. A group finishing Alpha will have different needs than a course that lots of long-term Christians have participated in.
2. Consider the structure of the groups, the content they may start with etc. This may be adapted once you have asked your leaders, but it also helps them decide whether to be involved.
3. Identify and ask potential hosts and potential leader/facilitator.
a. At this point you will not know how many people will be interested, so you may start training more than you need. Through this process, some may realise that this is not a role God is calling them to, but of those that want to lead you can pair them up to share the responsibility and to be ready for when another group is needed.
b. It is helpful to have both so that they can support each other and it does not over burden.
i. Host – consider their welcome, inclusion but also whether they have space in their house to host.
ii. Facilitator – this person is leading discussion, prayers etc. However, the aim is that they are people who will facilitate a discussion and encourage people to share their views, ideas and stories. Therefore they do not need to be experts or have all the answers.
c. Think about who will work well together.
4. Run training and support in advance of the course starting and during.
a. Be careful not to add too many extra meetings during the course because their focus should be on the course and you don’t want to over burden.
b. Each group should have the elements of the small groups you are wanting to create. E.g. social time to begin, some prayer and teaching etc.
c. You may do a big picture training before the course starts. Here you share the general structure you have agreed and why each area is important, what the expectations of the leaders are, introduce the material you will be using in the first small group sessions for them to have a look at, how to invite people etc.
d. Then you run another session between the end of the course and the beginning of the small group. This is a chance to refresh on the big picture things but also dig a little deeper into the details of the how the groups are run and led. Hopefully you will also have a clearer idea of how many groups you will have, if you have more leaders then you can have them supporting one another in the groups.
e. You may decide that the 2 sessions won’t work for your leaders and do it differently. There are lots of ways to adapt it to your needs and circumstances.
5. It is important during the course to make people aware that there will be small groups to continue exploring afterwards, this can be very gentle with flyers on the table, a mention from the front at the beginning. But in the final week or two (depending on the courses length), you want to be sharing positives about joining a group and what kind of topics they are likely to be discussing.
a. Personal invitations from leaders etc are also important as it shows a value in the relationships that have been made and a desire to take them further.
b. Depending on the group, you may invite others from the church to be involved. This might be opening it up to the whole church, if the course was open. It may be thinking of specific people who will be gifted in fellowship and teaching those who are just starting to explore faith.
6. If your course ends at a natural holiday, this is the time to have a couple of weeks off before starting the small groups (this also gives time for the leaders to meet). If it ends in the middle of a term, it’s worth taking a couple of weeks of so people have time and space to reflect. But, leaving the gap for more than a few weeks can mean people lose momentum and they get out of the habit.
a. Make sure the dates it will start are made really clear and you have a way of communicating with them for reminders etc.
1. Send out a friendly reminder of the date, time and venue in the week of the small group(s) meeting
2. Depending on the group, it may be nice to run the first meeting as a social, with space to get to know each other a little better.
a. Part of this is just having the opportunity to talk, but some fun activities or games might help those who are less chatty or confident. It’s also a good space to share a little more about what the group will look like week to week, so people are not surprised.
b. There should also be a spiritual element, a time for prayer, sharing what you got out of the course. Be creative but keep the members of your group central in deciding what to do.
3. It is really important that leadership who helped train the leaders get in touch with the small group leaders after the first session to ask them how it has gone and if they need anything for the next session.
a. The communication, encouragement and support is important beyond the first week. It doesn’t need to be long but needs to allow space for any issues or concerns to be raised.
4. The next few sessions should run in the structure you agreed, although each group should also have the flexibility to adapt and evolve. The important thing is that the key elements are included.
5. If you have more than one small group starting, it might be good to touch base together to share part way through the first material you are using. This will allow them to encourage each other, share concerns and give each other ideas.
Support and ongoing training are really important. This should involve a space to share concerns/issues, to share positives and encouragements, to celebrate their leadership and to receive resources and training.
- A lot of churches do this three times a year, but this may not be the same for you. If this is used, it is best to do it towards the end of the previous term so they are ready at the beginning of the next term. Suggested resources are given for following term, discussions about where they are and where they are going can take place, alongside sharing and celebrating.
Sharing about small groups in church is a brilliant way of recognising the impact they are having on people’s lives and also to encourage others to want to be involved for themselves. Stories are really important in doing that. Perhaps inviting the leaders (and members when they have the confidence) to share what they are doing and how it is affecting them, this could be a regular slot once a half term.
Ownership of a group is really important. Especially if it has come from an Alpha course, you do not want them to feel that they can’t do it. So in time (the time will be different for each group), invite people to contribute to bringing food, and encouraging each other to lead different parts of the evening.