Multiply Community Groups in Your Church

February 9th, 2017

G3 is short for Grab, Gather, and Grow. These three verbs are steps to help mobilize your church for tremendous growth. This system will help you achieve not only healthy numeric growth but also growth in discipleship, growth in ministry and mission activity, as well as growth in spiritual relationships. Grab, Gather, and Grow is a system that will help you assimilate the entire church family with parts of the community into a small-group setting.

For years we heard Christian leaders say that it was possible to see more people involved in group life during the week than in attendance in worship on the weekend. In fact, they would even go so far as to say that 100 percent participation in groups is not the goal. Instead, the goal is to see upwards of 110 percent of the weekend attendance actively involved in group life. What? Are you kidding me? It preaches well at a training event, but is it really possible? Could it just be seminar rhetoric? Well, if you’ve ever experienced seminar rhetoric, then you can understand our surprise when we realized that, after adopting a new strategy for group life, we did indeed have more people involved in groups some weeks than we had in worship on the weekend. (And we had good crowds on the weekend!)

Many churches are stuck in patterns that are not yielding the best results. We realized this was true in our setting several years ago. So we put together a strategy that we revised and is now producing tremendous growth spiritually and relationally in our setting. This is the strategy we call the “Grab, Gather, and Grow Process.” Feel free to do what we’ve done, tweak it, and make it work in your situation! As Christian leaders, our responsibility is not only to feed our sheep but to equip them and create systems of health and growth so that they, too, can feed sheep. Ideally these systems need little maintenance once established and can allow for years of growth in many areas. In the early church, we read in Acts:

“A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved” (Act 2:43-47 CEB).

The early church had a system! There was a system for corporate worship in the temple and a system for ministry, fellowship, study, and mission in homes. G3 is a similar system. You already know the theology motivating it from scripture.

Go into the whole world and make disciples. . . . Love each other. . . . Bear each other’s burdens. . . . A three-ply cord is not easily snapped. . . . As iron sharpens iron, so friends sharpen each other. . . . Don’t stop meeting together with other believers. . . . Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

These scriptures, and so many more, point to the need for us to be in community with each other. They stress the strength that comes from doing life together with a shared purpose. But our world, our churches, and our people are already so very busy. Within the church we usually attend too many meetings, accomplish too little ministry, and often feel too much stress. In fact, in the bustle of life, many of the people in our churches and communities find themselves desperately lonely. So what do we do? We build a system to help people connect to each other, to Christ, and to meaningful ministry. In our situation, just two weeks after beginning G3, we were able to assimilate more people into groups meeting in homes, businesses, and restaurants than we had in weekend worship. Even more surprising and exciting is that these small groups are bearing fruit. Over the past year we’ve seen a 350 percent increase in the number of groups offered in our church family. This represents more than a thousand additional people now engaged with each other on a weekly basis to study God’s word, invite the lost, engage in missions, take care of each other, and worship together.

How? This result is accomplished by giving people an easy-to-use resource provided through our church and encouraging them to gather a few friends from the community and commit to growing together in a small-group setting. This resource includes a DVD of teaching done by a skilled communicator, which allows people who may have been previously intimidated by “teaching” to step into leadership. The gathering is done by the one who grabs the resource, and the growth occurs through the sweet process of inviting God into our lives within these group settings.

In some ways, by allowing all church members to grab a resource, the qualification bar for leadership is lowered. The average church attendee is able to step into a leadership role and reach out to their circles of friends and family outside the church family. This is a part of the secret sauce for G3. By equipping the people of God with high-quality materials and then encouraging them to reach out to those they know outside the church walls, we have been able to reach many more people with the love and message of Christ.

Many of our peers, with varying demographics—geography, style of worship, and size—experience similar results. Our friend Jeff, a pastor in Ohio, implemented a version of the G3 process with great results, too. Five months after introducing this strategy, his congregation moved from 180 people involved in eighteen groups to over 500 people involved in forty-seven groups, and they are still growing.

After just two series, David, a pastor in Texas, experienced a similar outcome. They added fifty groups and had a really positive experience. These examples are both from relatively large churches. However, the system works in all locations and is effective in a variety of settings. A smaller church trying this approach added seven groups. Sounds small in comparison until you realize this doubled their group attendance. Don’t be overwhelmed by the numbers. Scale the process to your situation. But think exponentially and not incrementally!

We are excited to share this process with you because we believe that it will work for you no matter the size or location of your congregation. And, as it works, you will ultimately be able to reach more people with the love and message of Christ. In fact, as you unleash the power of encouraging everyone to reach out to those in their spheres of influence, the stories that emerge will amaze you.

In another example, we received a note from a participant, Tamera, who shared with us that simply by grabbing a resource and using it with friends from her work setting, she made an impact on a unique population. Tamera works with adults who have special needs, including several who are nonverbal. After viewing a resource on love, she invited small groups of her clients into her home and did the study with them.

This group, like so many others, is one we would never have envisioned. But by loosening the constraints of who is qualified to lead, and by empowering our attendees to invite, we are seeing tremendous growth both within the community and in who is being reached.

Jim and Jen Cowart are the founders and lead pastors for Harvest Church UMC near Macon, Georgia. Their small-group strategy book and DVD Grab, Gather, and Grow is now available from Abingdon Press. They are also the authors of other video-based small-group resources (six weeks each) including Living the Five (August 2016), Hand Me Downs (January 2017), and Grounded in Prayer (available August 2017). Jim and Jen are also authors of Start This, Stop That: Do the Things That Grow Your Church.

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