Engaging the Last 15%

worshipMany churches today average about 10-20% more people attending worship than they have in Sunday School or small group. A look at the attendance pattern of most churches indicates that this is an ongoing issue. Pastors and Sunday School leaders see people in worship every week that just will not make the commitment to go the next step and join a Sunday School or small group. We place ads in the worship bulletin and make announcements from the pulpit that almost beg these people to join a group… often to no avail.

I have discovered that there are three main reasons (barriers) why many people who attend worship are not willing to join one of the church’s small groups.

  • They do not know the group leader. Many of these folks are afraid the group leader will ask them to find the book of Habakkuk and read a bunch of names they can’t pronounce!
  • The social circles in the church’s small groups are already established. Breaking into an existing social circle is very difficult. Therefore, it is easier to skip the group meeting and go home.
  • An unwillingness to make a long-term commitment.

So how do you engage the 15 per cent (or 20 or 30) of worship attenders that are not participating in a small group? Instead of offering the usual ways to join a group (which they have already rejected), the church needs to offer some new ways to involve people in a new group that addresses the three barriers mentioned above. Here are two recommendations that may help you engage that final 15%:

First, begin a Connection Group. For this type of group to work, it needs to be led by the pastor or a staff member. A Connection Group is simply a short-term group (six to eight weeks) that is led by the pastor. During the course of the group, the pastor identifies and begins to train someone from within the group to become the group’s new leader. When the initial study is completed, the pastor hands the group over to the new leader and the group is moved from a short-term to an ongoing group. The people in the group have made new friends and established new relationships.

A second way to address this issue is to offer a Connection Event. A Connection Event can be done in several ways, but the basic idea is to start two or more new groups and invite people to stop by a booth or table in the church foyer immediately following the worship service so they can meet the group leader and receive information about the group. Some churches even offer a meal right after worship for people who are not connected to a group, and begin the new groups in this manner.

Regardless of which strategy you may use, realize that you need to address the three major issues mentioned earlier that prevent many people from belonging to a small group. By using the Connection strategy people can meet the group leader in advance; join a new group with no pre-existing social circles; and participate in a short-term group and establish relationships before it becomes an ongoing group.

Be sure to leave any comments or questions below and I will reply as soon as possible.


Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/Small Group specialist for the BGCO. Bob also writes for his own blog at www.bobmayfield.com.