Multichannel On Site Groups
The principle is basic: Christians need to be together, especially in interactive activities where they can talk, listen, share needs, dream, complain, be human. Sunday morning worship is poorly suited for interaction.
First task, however, is to “clean house” – to create a roster of activities and groups that respond to actual needs and have enough participants to be sustainable.
Start with a rigorous evaluation of what people already do and don't support. Do the metrics, do the charts, and see what is working. Forget what people said they wanted; the only measure is what they actually support. Forget the 1950s; see what is working and not working today.
Drop the under-performing activities – the Bible study that only three attend, the Friday morning men's fellowship that has dwindled from twelve to six to two, or the knitting circle that was a big event in the 1950s but now appeals to only one or two. Those activities take up staff and volunteer time, they occupy space, and they establish an atmosphere of futility.
Strengthen the activities that seem to be working.
Now, look forward.
Our advice is simple:
- listen to the marketplace
- identify needs you can address
- start ten activities
- market them as best you can
- expect that some will fail, learn from them
- strength the two that worked
- start ten more
What will you end up doing? There is no magic formula. Every community has different needs. You can assume, however, that the wider community's needs are different from the congregation's, because most mainline churchgoers are at least 20 years older than their neighbors and less diverse.
Most likely, you will offer a mix of groups serving these purposes:
- parent support
- recovery from addiction
- elderly support
- education-and-community for children
- education-and-community for youth
Even though groups are diverse, they serve a common purpose: enabling people to spend time together in a safe environment. They provide an opportunity to be heard and loved. Sewing quilts and studying John are mainly excuses to get together.
Finding time in people's schedules can be hit-or-miss. You will want to look at early morning and evenings, and be prepared to provide refreshments.
In the Off Site section, we recommend that small home-based groups are essential. But there is a place also for church-based groups. Some will feel more comfortable coming to a known location than to a stranger's home. The church site has some valued amenities, like round tables, coffee urns, privacy and ample parking. Staff can drop in easily for five minutes of friendship.
Like any living entity, church groups have a life cycle. They form, they define purpose, they sort out issues, they reform, and sometimes they die. In our opinion, all groups should be considered temporary, not as permanent. They should have a defined purpose, audience and life expectancy -- like a centering prayer group for five weeks in Lent. If the group clicks and continues, that's fine. But even then, it won't go on forever. Leaders need to be sensitive to signs that a group needs to reform itself or disband. No shame in either outcome.