Connect Groups: Connecting people who follow Jesus
Triad Baptist is launching a new small group ministry in September to address a common problem of a large and fast-growing church: the difficulty to connect with people on a personal level, build deep relationships and give a large church campus a small-church atmosphere.
Called “Connect Groups,” and led by Radiate High School Ministry leader Jared Hoots, each will meet in homes for 10-week sessions and feature memberships oriented around common seasons of life such as empty nesters, singles, parents of teens, senior adults, and other characteristics group members share.
Members will prepare for the sessions by completing homework based on Pastor Rob Decker’s current sermon series and discuss how to apply the teaching in daily life during their Connect Group.
Visit Triad’s Connect Groups page for more information about the ministry and registration, which begins next month. Have a question about Connect Groups not addressed by this article? Use this survey to share with Connections editor Wayne Thompson so we can update the story.
“I really feel like God took me through a season of loneliness, even in the midst of a large ministry, in order to move my own heart in this direction,” Hoots says. “Sometimes you can be connected to so many people that you only allow yourself to stay on a surface level with them, when in reality there is a need for deeper connection. Through this process, I was able to talk with people who (even though they were involved in Sunday school and other ministries) who felt this same desire for a deeper connection.”
Hoots says God used Pastor Rob’s message about the locust, “It's Time to Leap,” to confirm the move to Connect Groups and his leadership.
“Pastor Rob said that the locust never does anything of importance by itself,” Hoots recalled. “They always do things together. As I was sitting there, I immediately thought of small groups. I knew that God was pressing this on my heart. He also said that the locust has a voracious appetite and that we must run with hungry people. These groups will put people in a position to run with others who are hungry to experience a deeper relationship with Jesus. And finally, he said that the locust can’t fly, but he knows how to jump into the wind.
“When you sense that the wind is about to blow, you better be ready to jump. In my heart, I know that God was showing me that the wind was about to blow and that I needed to be ready to jump. So here we are! There are many other confirmations that I have received along the way, but I know that God has impressed this upon me at this time for a reason.”
Hoots adds ‘Connect Groups’ pastor to responsibilities
The hiring of Braden McKinley as worship director created the opportunity for Hoots to organize and lead the new ministry since each pastoral staff member has a 30 percent secondary responsibility.
Hoots had held the worship leader post as his 30 percent assignment while leading the Radiate High School Ministry as his primary position.
To prepare for the launch and test study questions and other aspects of the ministry, Hoots led a test Connect Group himself from April 11 to June 6 that he attended with his wife, Kimberly, and their children (the group arranged for childcare). He also will lead one of the first new Connect Groups as well as others who participated in his test group: Scott and Heather Still; Jeremy Chandler; Trent and April Vernon; Bret and Joanna Yates; Mike and Stefanie Allen; and Daniel Winemiller.
Hoots is also recruiting other leaders and volunteers to open their doors as host homes for the Connect Groups.
“Our goal with the launch of these new groups is to create an environment where significant relationships are formed with discipleship as the focus,” Hoots says. “Some churches make multiplication and evangelism the focus of their groups, which would mean that the goal is to grow the group and eventually split it. However, we believe that the main reason that people do not stick around (in church in general) long enough to be discipled is because of a lack of significant relationships being built with them.
“If we address the problem of anonymity within our congregation, then I believe that we will see significant spiritual growth take place in individuals, which will lead to a strengthening of our body, which will result in people living out the gospel, which will lead to them unashamedly sharing the gospel. The outreach (by individuals/disciples) will be a natural outflow of this inreach program.”
Hoots says Connect Groups are not designed to replace Sunday School communities but are part of Triad’s holistic focus on pointing lives toward Christ across all its ministries and programs.
“We definitely hope that these groups will be a draw for people who are not currently connected to a Sunday School community but they are not a replacement for them. All our ministries are important and offer opportunities to serve, and connect with others and build relationships,” he says. “We just think the size (10-14 and 16 people maximum) of Connect Groups make them particularly well-suited to relationship-building and creating an atmosphere where people can be accountable to and encourage each other in their walk with Christ.”
Small group revival
The new Connect Groups follow Triad’s first effort to launch a small group ministry with Life Groups in 2011. Although relationships and application of biblical truth from the Sunday messages were a part of the focus, Life Groups were year-round and also designed for multiplication and evangelism to non-members.
The two existing Life Groups still active will continue to meet year-round but go by the “Connect Groups” name although they will not enroll new members at the Connect Groups fair and sign-ups in September and subsequent months.
“I think if you look over the last 18 years of my ministry at Triad and our four-fold vision focus of worship, reach, serve and connect, it would be easy to identify ‘drop points,’ ” Pastor Rob said. “I would say our strength has been outreach and serving and worship but we’ve been weaker on the connect side of deeper relationships. So I took the initiative five years ago with Life Groups to bridge the gap but they struggled to take off since we didn’t have a leader that could devote the time to it that it required with other responsibilities they had outside of church as well. Some groups persevered, weathered the storm and demonstrated the potential of small groups.
“I let it go until Jared phased out of worship leader,” he added. “Then I knew the time was right to reignite informal settings at homes where people would think differently about the bible than they would in a structured setting of worship and Sunday School. Both worship and Sunday School are needed but they’re not conducive to open, honest and vulnerable relationships.
“We need that and that is what people are craving,” Pastor Rob continued. “I have heard it said like this: Church is like a silo of preaching and serving which is great but you leave here and want to talk through what has been said with someone you can trust and care about you and say, ‘I am struggling to know how to fit that into my family in a practical way.’ This was my vision and goal and remains my vision for these new Connect Groups.
“Staff are encouraged to be a part of a Connect Group that they can lead or not. But they have to be in one or attend on Wednesday night. I’m really excited about Jared’s passion and energy and to see what God does with this Connect Groups ministry and would encourage everyone to find a way to be a part of it.”