As Arkansas Baptists and churches slowly get back to meeting in person, we have spoken with a number of pastors and leaders that have decided to wait to re-start various ministries like children, youth and small group ministries. Fortunately, and like online worship, the use of the virtual platform for small groups is another key area where churches have used technology to keep an essential ministry alive in our local churches. However, it just is not quite the same. So, with this in mind, let’s look as some things you can be doing in the meantime to maximize your impact when in-person groups begin to meet again.
Train Your Leaders
Even if your small groups continued to meet online, the pandemic has provided an opportunity for you to do some things with your leaders maybe you haven’t had the chance to do previously. Here’s some ideas to consider as you move towards meeting in person:
- Refresh their skills. This is a great opportunity for training your small group leaders in how to study the Bible, prepare a lesson and deliver a lesson.
- Make sure every leader is informed as to everything related to the near – or distant – future. When will you start back? What will be the agenda for that day and going forward?
- Don’t forget your COVID-19 precautions! Just because you are moving to phase 2 or 3 (I can’t keep up with them.), doesn’t mean you shouldn't continue to keep precautions for intimate gatherings in place. Some churches are using specific entrances for specific groups, be sure your group knows their instructions. Will you still need to meet socially distant? Will you need to wear masks? Be sure every leader knows the policies your church intends to implement, and make sure your leaders follow them as well.
Train NEW Leaders. You have been waiting for the opportunity to invest into some new leaders, now you can. Use this time to mentor some potential new small group leaders.
- Lifeway’s MinistryGrid (https://ministrygrid.com/training/) This site provides training material for volunteers in a wide range of areas for the local church including small groups. It also has leadership training materials specific to the Lifeway curriculum you may be using right now.
- RightNow Media (https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Library/2) If you are not familiar with RightNow Media, you need to be. In addition to a rich library of training modules, they also have a vast library of Bible studies and studies for children, youth, men, and women’s ministries.
- SmallGroups.com (https://www.smallgroups.com/train/) Similar to both sites above, this site has access to some training courses for small group leaders as well as other material for use with your groups.
- Evangelism and Church Health team of the ABSC. Please don’t forget us as a resource to help you train your leaders! (https://www.absc.org/teams/evangelism-church-health)
Unify Your Groups
- Remind your leaders of the vision and mission of small groups. Take time to start back fresh with clarity of purpose and strategy across all of your small groups. It is not often churches get to press a reset button on a particular ministry and start back fresh. Take advantage of this opportunity to get everyone on the same page.
- Renew the lines of communication and keep them open. Often Sunday mornings have been the time we “check in” on our leaders and groups. Without the opportunity to meet in person, maybe communication hasn’t been as efficient. Communication will be a key to unity going forward…open or RE-open that door.
- Clarify your curriculum. It is not very likely that everyone will start back perfectly in line with the schedule or dates of quarterly literature. Or maybe, your small groups have not completed a particular study. Leaders should take time to clarify what will be studied, schedule a singular start date, and get everyone back on the same schedule.
Consider a church-wide study. Pastors and church leaders may want to use this new start up as an occasion for the entire body to go through something together. Often, there is no better way to create or re-create unity than by everyone studying the same topic in the Word.
Outreach and Follow-Up Are Key
- Check on your members. Unfortunately, one of the trends we have seen through this time of pandemic and abnormality in the local church schedule is that of “church shopping.” Because worship and small groups may not have been in person or as routine, some church members have used this time to check out other churches online or experiment with other options. The small group is the most intimate group for connection and discipleship in the church. Be sure your leaders are staying in touch with their members and are keeping them informed as you move forward. This may also be a good opportunity to clarify the church roll or just the roll of the small group.
- Follow up with prospects. We have heard several stories of people attending small groups or worship online that have never set foot in a physical local church. If you have been diligent in finding out who these people are, this restart is a great time to engage them and connect them to the church through a small group. There may be reasons they were courageous enough to visit online but not in person, so be careful in how you relate to these prospects.
- Start NEW groups. It is long proven that new groups are a catalyst for growth in the local church. As you have trained new leaders, followed up with your prospects, and scheduled your re-start date…this is now the perfect time to launch a new group or groups. Be sure to seed these with people who understand the vision and purpose of the church and the group, but tap into what should be a wealth of possibilities from new people who have watched online to church members who have only attended worship.
We should all be reminded that connecting virtually is not how we were designed to function at our best. None of us experience the fullness of God without the Spirit of Christ that resides in every believer. And this fullness is really best achieved in person. There is just no substitute for actual presence when we are in fellowship with one another. Whatever you do, make sure it is purposeful and clearly communicated so that your small groups start back successfully. Please remember, the ABSC is here to help you transition back to “normal”…whatever that may mean.
Some other resources:
- “Guidelines for Re-opening Churches” (ABSC) This link will jump to the section on Sunday School and Small Groups, but the entire document is very helpful.
- “48 Questions to Ask before You Re-Open Your Church” (Ken Braddy, Lifeway) This is another more exhaustive, church-wide list of re-opening questions and suggestions.
- “How COVID-19 Is Bringing the Church back to Her Roots: Small Groups” (Chris Surratt, Lifeway’s Facts & Trends) This is well worth reading.