A study on small groups entitled, Small Groups - Big Impact: Connecting People to God and One Another in Thriving Groups (2011) by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable, discovered that groups that see people accept Christ, increase in size, and multiply into additional groups have four things in common. These groups have small group leaders who model and facilitate prayer, outreach, care and the empowerment of group members.
The study found that 83% of groups that had a leader who modelled and facilitated prayer saw someone come to Christ in the past nine months (versus 19% of groups that did not have a praying leader). Praying leaders spend time with God. They actively pray for group members and group meetings. They pray for unsaved people in their lives and in the lives of others within the group. As the leader and others in the group engage in a lifestyle of prayer, people sense God’s presence in the group. Life change happens. People get saved. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that kind of group?
When group leaders and their groups have an outreach focus, they are much more likely to see people come to Christ. The study found that 90% of groups with this kind of focus saw someone come to Christ in the last six months (versus 11% of groups without this outreach emphasis). In the book, Egli and Marable talk about the five I’s of reaching out:
- Investment - Members spend time with friends in order to share Christ
- Invitation – Leaders encourage members to invite others
- Intention - Outreach is a stated purpose of the group
- Intercession – Group members pray during their meetings for unsaved friend
- Imitation - Leaders model relational outreach
If we want to grow our small groups, outreach needs to be an important part of group life.
A strong caring orientation is another key strategy for growing our small groups. The study showed that 44% of caring groups added at least four new members since starting (versus 18% without this emphasis). Caring groups spend time with one another outside of group meetings. They pray for each other, support each other and have fun together. Group members function like a family.