The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups:
DON’T: Assume childcare is no big deal. The absolute dumbest thing you can do is claim small groups (or any other meeting for that matter) are essential and vital to your mission, and follow up with the phrase “childcare will not be provided.” Childcare is a really big deal. As is a consistent bedtime for kids. And dinner plans. And parent-child schedule fatigue. Parents are busy. They’re driving all over town for sports, school, lessons, shopping, work, and a bunch of other stuff. And they’re spending a ton of money. Making a commitment to a small group for parents involves an incredible level of effort, commitment, and cost. Understand that a parent wants the very best for their kids, and at first look, being away at a small group meeting might not look like what is best for the kids. Don’t judge, just understand. If something is vital to your church, you need to figure out childcare. Don’t come up with a wimpy solution; treat it as if it is the biggest part of what you’re doing. Assume childcare is no big deal and I’ll assume you’ve having limited success growing and launching new groups… and creating space for lots of young families.
DO: Offer GREAT options for parents with small children. First off, if your church is in a building with meeting space, consider small groups on site on Sunday mornings and during the week on a night where a ministry to children already exists. That familiarity and ease of use will help parents connect in a group with less stress and difficulty. If you have no quality on-site meeting space, there are still options. First, designate a consistent on-site option for parents to take advantage of a ministry to children, so they may drop their kids off, attend a small group, and then pick up afterwards. You will probably need to extend the hours to meet the need. You may even need to pay for Children’s Ministry workers. This is a priceless budget item. Most churches wouldn’t think twice about spending a few thousand dollars on equipment or props for the Sunday service, or sending checks to local missions agencies and foreign relief workers. How much is a ministry worth that invests in children, connects parents into your disciple making process, and frees people up for relationships that encourage spiritual growth?
On the money issue, I’m not done. Many churches offer voucher care for parents that have to hire a sitter to participate in church activities. The parents fill out a form, list the date, number of kids, and amount of hours (generally a four hour max) and the church cuts a check to partially or fully offset the costs. Helping parents is worth it. Cut something else if you’re not making children’s workers a budget priority. Cut everyone’s budget by a percentage if you have to. You have to get this one right. Ask the churches with all those kids and young families growing in discipleship and inviting their friends if you don’t believe me.
OK sorry, that last sentence sounded mean.
Finally, some groups will be creative when no other solutions exist. They pitch in a few bucks per family to offset two sitters, or rotate couples to spend time with kids for that week. Sometimes there are extreme situations like a small group with 10 kids. It isn’t easy. Could be time to launch a new group. Some families will give up in this situation, because it makes them feel like a burden, or because it is such a difficult task to make being in the group possible. That’s why GREAT options are so important.
“The Great Commission” (also known as Disciple-Making) is the command Jesus laid out for His followers. We are to “Make Disciples” of all nations. We are to “Make Disciples” of all people, everywhere. He didn’t create two distinct categories of “Evangelism” and “Discipleship” that we see today (my guess is that was invented so someone could sell two books instead of one).
Just like Jesus, Christians for centuries have utilized small groups of believers as a practical way to provide support, encouragement, growth, and fellowship with one another as we make disciples together. Small groups in a contemporary church environment are just as effective in “Disciple-Making” today, but simply putting people in a group and having a staff member tell them what to do doesn’t make disciples. I believe that an effective small groups ministry is one that consistently makes disciples, engages the culture they find themselves in, and loves people. So this week, I give you five days of “The Do’s and Don’ts of Small Groups.”