BP Toolbox

5 steps for starting new groups


Split. Divide. Birth.

None of those words are recommended when it comes to asking an existing group to start a new one, because each one is associated with pain of some kind.

Instead, why not use different words, because, as some have said, “words create worlds”? Rather than asking a group to divide, split, or birth a new one, why not use words such as “plant,” or maybe even “franchise”? Let’s focus on that word for a bit.

How many franchises have you frequented over the last 30 days? Chances are you’ve eaten at a restaurant or had your car’s oil changed at a business that is a franchise. Franchises are everywhere, and they are the way businesses have expanded their influence and reached new customers. Businesses open new stores because franchising works.

Starting new groups in the church works too. A “franchised” group will:

  • Add an average of 10 people to the total number of attending the church’s group ministry
  • Grow faster than existing groups
  • Be more evangelistic than older, established groups
  • Provide a better place for potential new group members to connect with others

Starting new groups is necessary if you want your group ministry to grow. If your church’s group ministry is plateaued or declining, the first thing to ask yourself is, “How many new groups did we start last year? In the last two years? The last three years?” If the answer is, “Not many” or “None,” you’ve identified the primary source of the problem.

5 steps

To successfully start (franchise) a new group, I recommend following a time-honored five-step formula. I’ve led the group ministry at three churches throughout the course of my ministry, and two of the three became the fastest-growing group ministries in their states. That’s not an accident, but it’s a result of God’s work coupled with a lot of human effort. The formula is based on the work of Arthur Flake, the first superintendent of the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Flake introduced his simple five-step formula in the 1920s. It propelled a high level of growth in the group ministries of Southern Baptist churches during the decades that followed.

When I am asked, “How do you grow a group ministry?” I point people to the following five steps that come directly from Arthur Flake’s now-famous formula. The steps in Flake’s formula are:

1. Know your possibilities

This first step is all about seeing the possible future of your group ministry. During this first step, you identify what underserved people groups you could reach if your groups agreed to franchise themselves. Check to see where you have “gaps” in your Bible teaching ministry.

Do you have a group for every kind of person who wants to study the Bible? If a single mother in her 40s wanted to connect with a group, do you have one that serves people in her demographic? Look at your community, also – what unreached people groups do you see that need a place to study the Bible?

Step one is to determine the possibilities for starting new groups. In essence, you are determining the target audiences for the new group(s).

2. Enlarge the organization

Once you have determined which new groups you might start, it’s time to draw up a new organizational chart. How many new preschool, children, student, and adult groups do you plan to add to reach the new people you identified in step one? At this point, don’t worry about any limitations your church has, such as space or leaders. You are in a dreaming stage as you draw out the new organization.

Once you’ve listed all the new groups, you must determine which ones you can actually start. Perhaps you identify five new groups you’d like to start, but in reality, you believe you can only start two right now. List those new groups along with the existing groups, and this becomes your new organization. But realize that at this point, you haven’t actually spoken to anyone about starting a group. You’ve been in an exploratory stage. Step three, though, begins the hard work!

3. Enlist and train leaders

This third important step is the place where a church will often experience success or failure in starting new groups. New leaders must know what is expected of them, what curriculum resources the church will provide for them (and how to use them correctly), and when regular training will take place.

It is recommended that you have a one-year plan to share with your potential new group leaders. This communicates that the work they are being asked to do is important to the church, so important that there are financial resources set aside for the success of this ministry.

4. Provide the space

Now that you know who you want to reach, have expanded the organization (on paper), have decided on the exact number of groups you wish to start, and have created a training plan for group leaders, in step four you must identify the places where those new groups will meet.

Perhaps you have empty rooms on your church campus. If not, you may want to start new groups at an off-campus location. Do you have any rooms at your church being used for storage? Clean them out and use them for Bible study groups! Your church might even need to begin a second hour of Bible study on Sunday morning. No matter what, groups must have places to meet.

5. Go after the people

Once you’ve accomplished steps one through four, you are ready to go after the people. Make calls, visit potential new group members in their homes, use social media to announce the start of new groups, send out mailers, and encourage your church members to tell their friends and neighbors that your church is starting new groups. As Charles S. Kelly, Jr. says, “The first four steps are the necessary preparation for growth. Actual growth is a result of going after the people who are the prospects.”

To learn more about Arthur Flake and his famous five-step formula, pick up a copy of Building a Disciple-making Ministry: The Timeless Principles of Arthur Flake for Sunday School and Small Groups.

This article originally appeared at LifewayResearch.com. For more insights on church and culture and practical ministry helps from Lifeway Research, sign up for their Daily Insights newsletter.