Yesterday I visited with yet another pastor who asked for advice on how to keep up with small group ministry due to the massive influx of people each week to the congregational gatherings. They're in a new housing development area of the country and dozens of people move into the neighborhoods surrounding the church building each week. By simple geography (location of the building) and the non-denominational name the church has on the signage, three, four, or five new families visit each week.
So what's a church supposed to do to assimilate all these people into small groups?
My advice? Set the bar for church membership higher than having a pulse and a checkbook. Far too many pastors see the influx of consumer Christians and want to keep them... but if the children's ministry isn't Disney-quality and something is expected in the way of servanthood early on in the process of becoming a part of the church body, the visitors walk.
And they should. They're looking for entertainment and a feel-good message with little to no commitment. That's the polar opposite of your church's mission statement, even though I have no idea what your mission statement might be.
Missional-driven churches invite believers to join them who possess a subset of the church's mission. Consumers can find a church service to watch on TV or go to a spectator-accommodating gigachurch like the half-dozen we have here in Houston if they want to be entertained.
Take Evergreen Church in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area as a good example. They have tons of visitors each week, but require every member to work in the children's ministry on rotation. The pastor told me this requirement weeds out a lot of visitors who just want to be entertained.
Or, visit TOUCH Family, the church my dad planted with Bill Beckham here in Houston. There is no membership beyond understanding that everyone who is a part of the church is a missionary and has a person mission that requires participation with others in their small group for support, discipleship, ministry, and outreach. If you don't see yourself as a missionary, well, go find a church that encourages pew warming (and a decent tithe check to pay for the programs and the light bill).
I guess it all comes down to this: What kind of people are you attracting to your church? Consumers or producers? Cater to the consumers and you'll never have enough small groups for them to visit. The groups will swell so quickly that members will look at the prospect of leading a group of strangers and say "no thanks."
What I'd love to see is some dialog here on the comments area about where you set the bar for membership and how you work with visitors in ways that supports your small group ministry, not drain it of its purposes.