Almost all churches have a larger number of people attending worship than attends their Sunday School or small groups. Research from Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger‘s book, Transformational Groups, reveals that involvement in small groups is vital to personal spiritual development. Consider the following comparison sample of small group attenders to people who attend worship only (results from LifeWay’s Transformational Groups research):
- Three times more likely to read the Bible daily;
- Four times more likely to do personal Bible study weekly;
- Almost twice as likely to pray for lost people;
- Almost three times more likely to serve in the church.
Many churches today have twice as many people in worship than attend their small groups. Leaders have prayed, asked, and almost begged unconnected people to participate in a small group, largely to no avail. One would think that connecting people that are already attending a worship service to a Sunday School or small group would be an easy next step. Obviously, it is not.
Why isn’t the church connecting the unconnected worship attenders to a small group?
First, address THEIR issues
This same research reveals that church leaders and unconnected people are not on the same page. Pastors, group leaders, Sunday School directors and Ministers of Education typically address the value of small groups from the viewpoint of a) transformational life change, and b) accountability and correction. Both of these issues are vital to spiritual growth.
However, research reveals that the top two felt needs of the unconnected are; a) encouragement, and b) support.
Church leaders typically promote that group participation is good for the individual because the individual lacks commitment and needs to change. To create an even bigger disconnect; joining a small group is often projected as “helping the church grow” – i.e. “institutionalism”!!
The unconnected are more likely to participate if the group is seen as a place where they can make friends and have a support network. Life-change and accountability are not at the top of the list of the unconnected.
So, unless an unconnected person is going through a significant crisis; life-change and accountability is probably not going to appeal to them.
Second, understand why the unconnected have not responded to appeals to join a group
Typically, there are three primary barriers that prevent the unconnected from joining and participating in a small group.
- They do not know the group leader. Since they do not know the leader, there is a built-in fear of the unknown. Fears that the group leader may ask them to find and read from Habakkuk, pronounce names that they do not know, or be called upon to pray are big reasons for the unconnected to avoid a small group.
- Existing social circles. The unconnected instinctively know that the church’s existing groups have already formed social circles. As welcoming as the group may be to a guest, the unconnected know that there is a big difference between being welcome and actually being part of the group’s social fabric. An existing social circle is difficult to join.
- Avoidance of long-term commitments. The unconnected tend to avoid anything at church that smacks of a long-term commitment. They fear they may not like the group they visit and join, and may feel trapped into something that they will not be able to leave.
Most of our appeals to involve more people in small group Bible study do not resonate with the typical unconnected worship participant. We typically ask them to join an already existing group with a leader that they do not know. Also, there is the perception that once you join a group – you are stuck with it!
Church leaders need to realize that their strategy to connect people to a group needs to address the individual’s need to belong and have a support group. Transformational life-change and accountability will generally take place once the unconnected begin to participate in a small group or Sunday School.
Part two of this post addresses the “how” question. How can the church involve the unconnected worship participant in a small group? Come back tomorrow for an idea that almost any church, regardless of size or small group strategy can do to connect the unconnected to a small group.
Go here for part 2 of this post about connecting unconnected worship attenders.
Go here for part 3 of this post about connecting unconnected worship attenders.
Research used in this post is from the book Transformational Groups, and is highly recommended reading.