This morning I received an excellent question from a pastor reading my book. He asked:
"I've started reading your book and have a question. What is the best way to integrate new comers into the small groups, either starting a new one or into existing ones?"
I believe the best way to think about a long-term solution to this challenge is to take a much larger snapshot of where the growth is coming from in a church:
Organic growth = small group members inviting friends and neighbors to church services and small group meetings.
Attractional, program-driven growth = advertisements and marketing campaigns attracting total strangers to come inside.
I firmly believe there will be enfolding issues with existing small groups if that basic Christian community itself is not outwardly focused and growing the church numerically through relationships. With this in mind, any small group-driven church who is serious about organic growth should work very hard to train members to be outreach oriented through discipleship while simultaneously decreasing the traditional "attractional" methods used to grow the church.
Now the proximity of some church buildings near a freeway or simply being well known in a community is going to attract total strangers to the building when the small groups gather for weekend services, which should be addressed organically vs. programmatically.
Some churches work overtime to train their small group members (not just the leaders) to reach out to visitors, buy them lunch after the service, hang out with them, become a genuine friend, and bring them into their small group. Visitors and new members are organically invited into existing biblical communities (small groups).
Other churches ask three to four people from existing groups to form new groups with new members by being a part of the new member class or orientation process, which is an enfolding or assimilation strategy. This second method seems to work very well where small groups have been in place for many years and asking 3-4 mature members to form a new group with new members breaks up the hard soil.
The bottom line is that to remain or become highly relational and grow organically, the cultivation and development of new members in new groups must be done by members of groups, not the church staff or with a program. This is not easy to get your head around until you start doing it, but it does work in the world-class small group-driven churches I researched for the content of the book.