For churches, a few things have become clear a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Thriving congregations have been forced to adapt by increasing their digital presence and outreach. In addition, successful churches have empowered small groups to keep members engaged and supported remotely. A point of clarification. When we say ‘small group,’ we include study groups, Sunday school classes, choirs, scouts, youth programs to name a few. Without the weekly cadence of in-person meetings, choir practices, services, and other normal fellowship routines, keeping everyone in the fold has certainly been an uphill battle. Small group communication has become essential.
Small groups have been the backbone of socially distanced church communities during this trying year, a critical lifeline to dispersed members. Adaptability, proactivity, and persistence have been key traits of small group leaders who have found creative ways to not only maintain, but to grow small groups.
We have a few suggestions for how to keep your small group vibrant, engaged, and even expanding!
The goal is not JUST to keep it purposeful and consistent but also light and fun! Small group leaders need to be more on top of communication than ever. Of course, don’t let a week go by without looping in with the group. Touch is critical grow small groups.
But beyond the obvious, now is a great time for virtual activities that get people involved and participating. Social media challenges are an omnipresent trend- pick one that most people in your group will be interested in. Consider:
- a picture challenge where members post pics of the space they’ve created in their home for small group Zooms
- a physical challenge that raises awareness about something you all care about. Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?
- an activity challenge like Couch to 5k , or a 10,000 steps a day challenge where people can post smartwatch data
- a kid-friendly walking scavenger hunt if your group has a lot of young parents.
- Give each member of the small group a day to take over the groups social media and post what they’re up to- nuggets of wisdom from the book they’re reading, or live streaming a family cooking challenge. If your group primarily know each other through church activities and bible study, this is a great way to encourage a deeper level of connection (from a safe distance).
The point of concentrating on engagement with current members is this: the more involved and engaged you keep folks during this time, the more likely the group’s goals (namely GROWTH if you’re reading this) will be high priority and front-of-mind for them.
Boosting Group Morale during COVID
Mine your old contacts:
Over the past year or so, have there been visitors who came to check out your group? Were there folks who were ready to dip a toe in the water but not fully jump in? Are there old members who have fallen away over the last couple of years?
Make a list of those folks and divide it up to the group for direct outreach. Best case scenario? They decide to up their investment in the group. Worst case? They know that you’re there, you remember them, and that you cared enough to follow up. Many are seeking community and faith right now. Don’t waste an opportunity to find those folks.
Organize a virtual learning opportunity
Now is a great time to find a webinar series or other learning opportunity to bring to the group. It’s easy to host and participate from home via Zoom. In addition, finding compelling subject matter will not only engage current members, but could be a great way to attract new members. If you’re using a group communication platform like Groupeasy (psssst that’s us!), you’ll have the ability to create a free home page for your group. Aside from explaining who you are and what you’re about, promoting virtual events is a great thing to incorporate into your social media and online presence. Even virtual connection will create engagement that will grow your small group.
Checkout Amplify Media’s online content. There are options for kids and also adults. Typically their resources are only available through a monthly subscription service, so now is a great time to take advantage of their content. A few options:
- A Season of Reflection: Lenten Studies to Prepare for Easter’s Celebrations
- Evening Devotionals: short videos from pastors and authors offering daily words of comfort in times of uncertainty
R Squared: Religion & Race also has a large selection of free resources covering timely issues around social justice. Choosing subject matter that has pressing social implications OUTSIDE of the church might be a good way to appeal to folks who don’t normally attend church. We liked the looks of:
- Human Sexuality and the Church: Being the Church that Channels God’s Love
- Ongoing Acts of Repentance with Indigenous People
Of course there are plenty of bible study deep dives out there to choose from. And that might be a great fit, depending on the demographic you are trying to appeal to! But if you’re wanting to appeal to people who may be seeking a faith community for the first time, picking something more socially relevant is a good idea. Structuring your group identity around inclusion, healing, and equity? Who wouldn’t find that appealing?
Invest in good group tech
If you haven’t done anything to create a social media presence, that would be the first priority in terms of working toward growth goals. If people can’t find you, they won’t be joining you. Simple as that.
Overwhelmed by the idea of a ‘social media presence?’ This is a great thing to delegate to a group member who is more comfortable with Instagram and the other apps. Strictly necessary? No. But having a fun and consistent presence will make it harder for potential newbies to forget about you.
Outside of the social media apps, having a public webpage that you can use to promote your group will be a game changer. Finding a group communication app like Groupeasy that handles all group functions in one place would be the most efficient way to handle public promotion and internal decision-making and communicating. Check out our Features tab above for all the details.
Why should handling behind-the-scenes organization be important to you if growth is a goal? First of all, if you’re already struggling to keep everyone on the same page as it is, you will not be able to attract or keep new people. The more cohesive your EXISTING group is, and the more efficiently you function, the easier time you will have pivoting your attention to drawing new people in. An effective communication approach makes small group management easy and helps you grow your small group.
Potential members are sensitive to the dynamics they perceive happening in the current group. Assume their antennae will be up from the moment you first interact with them. They’re looking for somewhere that feels healthy, stable, and dynamic. Is your group MO streamlined and stress-free? That sounds like an appealing place to stay. Is it like herding cats just trying to schedule a Zoom? They’ll pick up on that quickly and move on.
Look for outreach opportunities in the community
Being highly visible in the local community is another powerful way to get the word out about what a great small group you’ve got. It goes nearly without saying that there is PLENTY of community need at this time. This is a win-win for potential members and for growing small groups.
- Plan a walking parade outside of a rest home to cheer up the isolated elderly
- Host a drive-thru food pantry or coat drop-off and play great music
- Having a food truck or two show up so that people can grab a quick bite and stay distanced while eating together in the parking lot wouldn’t be a bad idea
- Start a meal train for shut-ins and folks who are financially struggling
- Have a small, distanced field day for students who are going stir-crazy from being trapped inside with their parents for the last 8 months
Once you’ve picked a thing, do a publicity blitz on your social media accounts and group homepage to get the word out to the community. Aside from providing support to your town, you’ll also be promoting your group as one who cares about local needs. This is a law of attraction thing: drive impact in the community, engage your current members, create a little buzz, and appeal to potential members who are also invested in the type of work you’re doing. Oh, and probably have at least a little bit of fun while you’re at it.
Become the high school cafeteria table that EVERYONE wants to sit at. A worthy goal for small groups in 2021!
The team at Groupeasy