Test Drive a Small Group

How LCBC Church develops groups by letting guests experience a trial run first

The Church: LCBC Church, Manheim, Pa.
The Challenge: Help people connect with the mission of the church
One Key Idea: Provide an environment for people to get acquainted and try small groups before they commit to joining one.

Outreach spoke to Community Life Pastor Matt Graybill, who says letting people try a short-term small group without pressure leads to long-term connections. Here are highlights of the conversation.

At LCBC, part of your connections strategy is allowing your 500-plus LIFE groups to self-govern, without “policing” them. Why?
For the most part, people know how to function as a community. Look at students when they come into a class for the first time, or when you go into a coffee shop. Sometimes as churches we live in fear and think we need to know everything that is happening in a group. The fact is that life is messy and groups are messy, but we as leadership don’t need to know everyone’s prayer request, what everyone is studying, or what people are saying. It is more natural to let our leaders lead, and we make sure they are supported along the way by providing coaches. The coaches’ role is to make sure leaders feel connected with what is happening at LCBC. Each coach oversees about 10 leaders, and we ask our coaches to have at least five “touches” a year with their leaders. Through these coaches and leaders, we equip the church to be the church.

After your connection event, the LIFE Group Link, people can give a group a six-week test drive. How does that work?
People are comfortable coming to church, so we ask them to come to a connection event at the church before they take a step into someone’s home. We divide the room into school districts and give people mingle time to meet people from their community and life stage. We then ask them to sit with six to 12 people they started to get to know. We guide them through a series of get-to-know-you questions and give them the vision for becoming a LIFE group along the way. You cannot really understand what a LIFE group is about until you try it. We allow them to pick their own leader by going through a series of questions that identify leadership potential. If, at the end of the six weeks, group members want to bail, that is fine.

What we hear again and again are groups of people saying they sat down at a table and told themselves no way they will stick, but a year later they feel like family.

Can you share a small group success story?
One of my favorite stories is about a bartender named Rachel. She had a pretty rough journey, but found herself coming to LCBC and becoming changed by Christ. Week after week, she would meet women who came to the bar in despair. Rachel started a LIFE group for [these] women and began inviting them to the group. Woman after woman started to come to the group and surrendered their life to Christ. Rachel’s group became so large that they started another group, and now you will see this group of women doing service projects for people in their community and inviting others to join them.

Launched: 1986
Weekend attendance: 10,147
Key connection points: Four campuses, 11 weekend worship experiences, LIFE groups, service opportunities
LCBC Church is a 2011 Outreach 100 church (No. 38 Largest).

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2011 issue of Outreach.MJ11 Cover

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