Taking Common Ground to the Next Level

About 75 percent of Next Level’s attendees are involved in one of more than 100 interest-based Connection Groups

What’s Next Level’s strategy for engaging people? 

After we moved to southwest Florida to start Next Level, a lot of people told me that small groups don’t work here because it’s a snowbird culture, a tourist culture, a beach culture. But we really believe life change happens in small groups and it’s biblical, so we decided that we were going to figure this out. We don’t want to be a church that has small groups. We want to be a church of small groups. And even if it’s a transient culture, people are hungry for connection.

So how has connection been working at Next Level?

We offer different Connection Groups three times a year—in the spring, summer and late fall. We have a start and a stop, giving people the ability to get in and get out. If your season of life changes or your schedule changes, it’s not like you’re committing forever and forever. Additionally then, for new people, they’re never more than a few months away from a new trimester of new groups.

How are the groups categorized?

They’re interest-based. We have activity groups, outreach groups and spiritual growth groups. That makes it very simple for people. What are you interested in? Basketball? Fitness? Studying the Bible? Tutoring? Helping the homeless? Depending on people’s passions, they can connect with others who share similar passions, and it works so well.

How do people know Connection Groups are top priority at Next Level?

At the start of each trimester, we do a Connection Group rally weekend. We set up a huge tent on the lawn, and all of our Connection Group leaders are out at tables. What this does, it takes a really large group of people and brings it down to individual leaders. There’s nothing like a handshake, a smiling face and a two-minute conversation to set you at ease. The weekend brings energy and momentum to our Connection Group life.

And then we have our magazine, which is all about Connection Groups. It tells stories of life change but also lists every group and leader and directs people online to register. Producing a 32-page, full-color magazine three times a year screams to regular attenders: “This is important to us!” We don’t produce a magazine about anything else that we do. It also creates a presence of community in our foyer. We have magazine racks all over, so even if you miss our rally weekend, you’ll clearly see that this is what matters most to us.

From Outreach Magazine  Beyond Awesome Coffee: Impact Church

And how has it mattered to individuals? Can you share someone’s story of connecting at Next Level?

Three years ago, a guy named Steve started coming to Next Level. He was going through a difficult season of his life and got into one of our men’s Connection Groups. This is one of our groups that gets down and dirty. They really get in each other’s business—it’s a strong group. Over the course of a few trimesters, Steve’s life just began to get changed. He literally went from unchurched guy to Next Level attendee, Connection Group attendee, Connection Group leader, team leader of many leaders, and now just two weeks ago, we hired him on staff to become Connection Group director.—Heather Schnese  

Next Level Church in Fort Myers, Fla. 

A 2012 Outreach 100 Church – No. 9 Fastest-Growing 



CONNECTION POINTS: About 75 percent of Next Level’s attendees are involved in one of more than 100 interest-based Connection Groups.

BIG IDEA: Produce a magazine that tells stories of personal life change because of small group involvement. Check out Next Level’s magazine here.