How To Get Men to Join Small Groups
Those six words and a core group of three men were enough to start our Thursday morning men’s small group. But before I show how, allow me to turn the clock back to early 2007.
At that time, the interim pastor of my church of 40 was also serving as the senior pastor of another small congregation of 20. Rather quickly, the leadership of the two churches decided to join together as one. So the men’s ministry was the first to be combined, meeting monthly on Saturdays for breakfast and Bible study. This continued through the launch of the new church.
But as weekly attendance for our Sunday service had grown to about 80 or 90 people, attendance at these monthly men’s breakfasts slowly declined and whatever momentum we’d carried from the launch of the new church had dissipated.
So the typical pre-Saturday men’s group conversation usually went like this between me and another leader:
“Hey Andy … can you lead the men’s Bible study this month?”
“Sure. When is it?”
“Let’s see … I am, but Phil’s working, Jason hasn’t responded to any emails all week and Ricky said he’d bring the OJ. I’m handling the eggs and bacon … can you do the pancakes?”
Poor Organization & Leadership
Sound familiar? The ministry had become an albatross that wasn’t being led effectively, with organization handled at the last minute. Add to that the declining attendance, the lack of fellowship among the men and it was clear the men’s ministry needed a change-up.
In January 2009, a group of us met for breakfast at a local Denny’s to discuss how we could restart the men’s ministry. It was clear meeting monthly was not conducive to creating a genuine sense of fellowship among the men—and for many of them that was all they wanted. Many were not ready to go deeper.
But what was the best approach? The five of us there that day were discussing various ideas when suddenly one blurted out we should meet at Denny’s every Saturday for breakfast, keep it simple and come as you are when you can. And that it would be a chance to get to know one another.
From Weekly Breakfast to Weekly Small Group
The following week, we kicked off our first men’s breakfast at Denny’s. Nine men showed up. The week after there were eight, but different men had come. Men who were new to the church found the weekly breakfasts to be a non-threatening way to connect with other men without having to feel the pressure to attend each week. Friendships began to form. We even paid for other customers’ breakfasts on occasion.
From connections that started during the Saturday breakfast, three of us decided to meet regularly for coffee. We then developed a Thursday morning small group at Starbucks. We started meeting regularly for accountability, to discuss our faith journey, discuss the prior week’s sermon and to share any Scripture or books we’d read.
After a few weeks, God clearly spoke to our hearts about the need to extend this discussion time to more men—to make it a sermon-based group, discussing the prior week’s message. The three of us knew it had to be done, despite the fact that selfishly, we didn’t want to ruin the good thing we had going.
Our three-man group was positioned to invite men who were attending on Sundays who hadn’t made it to Saturday breakfasts. We began to personally invite men to join us on Thursday mornings for coffee.
Officially Doubling in Size
We doubled in size the first time we met as an “official” men’s small group. We had instant transparency that first week, with the newer guys sharing some of the challenges in their lives in response to the questions posed by the prior week’s message. Each week since, we have had no less than five attend, with typically seven attending most weeks. We range in age from mid-20s to mid-60s. We come with Bible in hand, sermon notes in the other, a good cup of coffee in front of us (although one prefers his tea), ready to challenge each other and listen to the voice of God speaking through each other.
We see this as a win, considering when the seven of us get together on Thursday mornings, that comprises about 20 percent to 25 percent of the men who have attended our church on a regular basis in recent months. It means there is more work yet ahead of us to connect the other 75 percent, but as we go deeper in Christ together, we will also develop leaders from our group who will be enabled to start additional men’s small groups.
So what were the key steps for us?
1) A Willingness to Restart – with Prayer: When we saw the ministry begin to drift as men were unable to effectively connect with each other, we knew we had to do a complete restart of the ministry. However, we didn’t know how to do that—but we did know how to pray. We asked God for His ideas on how to best restart. The weekly breakfasts at Denny’s were, for us, that God-sized idea that restarted the entire ministry.
2) Creating a Place for Connection: We want our men to grow deeper in their walk in Christ with other men, but that wasn’t going to happen unless they connected. Saturday mornings at Denny’s has become that place of connection, with all ages of men connecting each week. As these relationships grow, we believe additional men’s small groups will form. We expect some to be led by those currently attending on Thursday mornings.
3) Creating a Safe Place for Sharing: The men who come on Thursday mornings know what is shared around the table stays around the table, especially as we’ve discussed our professional and personal lives, our families and our marriages within the context of the prior week’s sermon. Each man who’s come has said it’s a lot easier to discuss these issues with other men than in a mixed-gender small group setting.
4) Creating a Culture of Invitation: The Thursday morning small group exists because personal invitations were extended to the participants. Announcements and bulletin notices are fine for getting the word out, but personal invitations are far more effective. We make a point to invite men every week to join us on Thursdays.
5) Creating a Culture of Service: Men want to serve alongside their brothers. We are developing a culture of service in our group’s DNA—whether it is assisting another ministry (like assisting this year’s children’s Easter egg hunt) or handing out $5 Starbucks coffee gift cards to unsuspecting customers. There is a sense of excitement as we plan out ways to serve our community—both within the church and outside it.
So what’s next?
It begins with one simple question.
“Dude … want to get some coffee?”