Having been a pastor for over 20 years, few things disappoint me more than stories about church members that drop out without anybody noticing. Even more so, when people stop attending their small group/life group/cell group/community group, but it takes six months before someone notices and asks “hey, what happened to Lisa?” 😱
As a technology pastor, I also know that scenario is easily avoidable! I’m going to take a moment to point out how simple it can be for your church to support small groups based discipleship by making sure people don’t disappear without follow-up. 😎
1. You need to use your Church Management System 🧑💻
Most churches have a “database of members” of some sort, be it on Microsoft Access, a spreadsheet, or within a proper Church Management System (ChMS). All of those are welcome upgrades from the days of paper rosters, but the ChMS is the vital discipleship tool your church needs to leverage. Planning Center is a popular and easy one to start with if you don’t have one yet.
2. Small groups must enter their attendance ✅
You can only take action on the information that you have so you need small group leaders to take attendance. This is usually where things fall apart and the issue is this: pastors fail to communicate that attendance is used to help pastor and disciple people, especially to make sure nobody gets stuck or falls through the cracks. It helps if your ChMS makes taking attendance trivial via an app and/or email reminders.
3. Set your ChMS to detect members who stop attending 🆘
This step will vary based on your ChMS, but the basics are that you need a rule that determines:
A. Is the person a member of a small group?
B. Were they in the regular habit of attending their small group?
C. Have they missed the last few weeks?
You might tune this slightly differently based on your own church member’s habits, small group meeting frequency, or based on how early you would want to detect potential issues. I like to create two scenarios that generate incidents to proactively follow up on:
i. 50% attendance over the previous 3 months with the last 4 weeks missed.
ii. 75% attendance over the previous 2 months with the last 2 weeks missed.
Essentially, the more frequently someone was attending, the fewer missed sessions are needed to detect something might not be okay. Call, email, or send a video message just saying “Hi” and ask them how they are doing. Even if it’s a false alarm, your members will be touched that you reached out to check on them!
Tip: regularly scrub your small group membership 🧼
Aside from alerts, you should regularly scrub small group membership. For example: if a small group member hasn’t attended for a year, they aren’t really a member of that group anymore and are not experiencing the growth associated with being active in a group. Your ChMS should be set to automatically remove small group members who have not attended during the past three to six months so that you have an accurate view of what is happening in your church.