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The 4 Keys to Growing Your (American) Small Group

What makes an American small group grow? Some of you are familiar with the groundbreaking research that Dwight Marable and I did on small group growth that was published in our 2011 book Small Groups, Big Impact. (If you don’t have time to read that short book, you can find a free summary of our key findings here.) That research was based on our surveying over 2000 small group leaders in 21 different countries.

Since then some people have asked me, “What about small groups in the United States? What makes American small groups grow?” I’m happy to report I’ve just done fresh research involving 1140 small group leaders in 47 different churches here in the States. Besides having a large number of leaders from a wide variety of churches involved, some small but significant improvements were made to the survey tool. All this means I found out some cool and helpful new stuff. Simple path diagram 11-2013

Four types of small group growth were analyzed. I looked at the number of…

  • People visiting a small group
  • People coming to Christ through the influence a group
  • People joining a group
  • New leaders and new groups sent out of a group

What drives these four things? The results were clear and decisive.

Four behaviors drive these four types of group growth. (These were the same four behaviors that proved pivotal in the international research but this time two factors emerged as more important than previously.) They are:

  1. Pray: The prayer life of the leader. Leaders who consistently take time with God and pray for their members, their unreached friends, and their group meetings see more people come to Christ.
  2. Reach: Groups with an outward focus, those seeking to grow their group and reach people unconnected to Christ and his body, see more results on all four growth measures.
  3. Care: Groups that experience caring relationships between members, sharing meals together and supporting each other in times of need, have more people join their group.
  4. Empower: Leaders who don’t do everything themselves—who involve their members in things like hosting, leading the study, leading worship and prayer times—see their groups excel in all four types of group growth.

The diagram included with this post shows the causal relationships of these four behaviors or factors to the four group growth outcomes.

As you can see, the two factors that are particularly important are empowering others and cultivating an outward focus. Both of these factors accelerate all four growth areas. Empowering others shows an especially strong impact. This factor has the strongest “beta coefficients”—causal relationships—with the growth outcomes.

So if you ask: What is the most important take away for us as small group leaders? The answer is: Quit doing everything yourself and think about how to involve each of your member in ministry activities, outreach, and leadership roles! For more ideas on empowering others (or any of the other three factors), check out the free resources on my blog’s small group resources tab.

But keep this in mind: All four factors are important. Which one has God been speaking to you about? What is one way that you can grow in that area this week?

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