A Formula for Multiplying Small Groups

By Dr. Jason Snyder

A few years ago, I received a coffee mug as a gift, and on that mug were the words, “Arthur Flake is my Homeboy,” and a picture of the church ministry icon, Arthur Flake.

Flake was a committed volunteer in his home church in Mississippi and eventually became the first leader of the Sunday School Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian Resources). While he is likely an obscure individual to most, Flake is widely known for his five-step formula for building and growing a small-group ministry. Flake taught to:

  • Know the Possibilities
  • Enlarge the Organization
  • Enlist and Train the Workers
  • Provide the Space
  • Go After the People

At Prestonwood, we endeavor to start small groups several times a year. We’ve found that new groups always grow the fastest, and that people are prone to visit and connect with new groups the easiest. Our small-group ministry exists to reach our community, nation and world with the Gospel, learn to grow in authentic and visible faith, and love those around us with a biblically based devotion to Christ. Starting new groups is paramount to that mission.

Flake’s formula is helpful as we examine how many groups we should consider starting, the process of launching new groups, and how to populate those groups with new members.

First, Know the Possibilities.

As you contemplate starting new groups, take time to reflect on your connection potential. If you are a church plant just starting out, survey the community and examine some demographic data. For established ministries, consider your membership roll, inactive members, worship service visitors, special event participants, or social media connections. I would simply call this process, “determining your sphere of influence.”

Second, Enlarge the Organization.

Once your sphere of influence is established, take time to pause and pray for God’s wisdom as you consider the possibilities of connecting these people with your church and small-group ministry. Flake taught that a ministry must envision and organize enough groups to provide for all the possibilities. This is a great place to dream big!

Third, Enlist and Train the Workers.

Knowing the possibilities and enlarging the organization are key visionary steps, but without leaders, your efforts will have been for naught. Pray publicly and privately for God to provide new leaders. Ask people to join your leadership team—some people will never volunteer from a public invitation, but they’ll gladly step up from a personal one. Consider and approach current small-group participants who might be willing to multiply from established groups to launch new groups.

Once the leaders have been identified, be intentional to train them for the ministry. Just having the right personalities in the room does not necessarily mean you have a winning team. Training should be specific, engaging, meaningful and offered regularly. Outline the mission, strategy and core values of your ministry. Explain what constitutes “wins” for your small groups, and how each small-group leader can contribute to the success of the ministry.

At Prestonwood we accomplish training in a variety of ways. We do large-group training twice a year, age-group training once a month, and personal training face-to-face as often as needed. We also use web articles, training videos, and brief communication reminders so that the team is well-equipped, energized, encouraged and empowered for ministry.

Fourth, Provide the Space.

Depending on your small-group strategy, on-campus or off-campus, you’ll need to consider your groups’ meeting locations, days and times, and (if applicable) solutions for childcare needs. At Prestonwood we are blessed to have the capability to host our groups on-campus. However, with the expansion of our Adult Ministry, we’ve had to become very creative with space. Creativity may mean launching new times for groups to meet, moving groups from one space to another to accommodate new group growth, or reallocating space from another purpose to be used as a group meeting space.

Another fundamental of providing space is working to ensure that meeting space has adequate capacity for your group, and that each group has been provided the supplies necessary to host the group with excellence.

Fifth, Go After the People!

God has provided the vision for what could be; you’ve prayed and diligently worked to prepare for each new group; and now the real fun begins. This step is all about communication and connection. Organize and execute a communication plan that highlights each new group and how church members and visitors can attend and connect with a new group. Equip your new group leaders by providing a list of prospects and their contact information. Challenge your leaders to personally connect (phone calls, personal visits, e-mails, text messages, etc.) with each prospect and invite that person to visit.

At Prestonwood, we prefer to use a multiplication/core group model to launch new groups. A core group is formed and multiplied from an existing small group. We appoint and train new leadership, and we provide the core group with space to meet as they plan and pray for their new group. The core group is provided a list of church guests, inactive members, and small-group prospects so that they can begin recruiting new people. And we launch!

This goes without saying, but launching a group is just the beginning. Each group will need continued care, training, development, and encouragement to stay on mission and to do the work of the ministry.

I believe that small-group ministry is one of the most important ministries a church can implement and cultivate. People are made for relationships—we need one another. I encourage you to go all-in—your church will be better for it.

Dr. Jason Snyder serves as the Minister to Adults at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @jasonwsnyder.