Small groups can be life changing.
One of the greatest ways I have found to discover what a church truly values and how well my family and I will do there is how the church approaches small groups.
Churches that approach small groups as something that must be done in order to keep people around for the service or get the children out of the service, in my opinion, are missing the point. On the other hand, I’ve found a fascinating link between churches that make small groups the focus of church interaction with parishioners and churches that are also fulfilling the Great Commission, encouraging growth, and ultimately pursuing Christ.
But small groups are incredible difficult to manage without the right tools and workflows. Tracking several hundred or several thousand people and keeping track of their relevant information and which group they attend can be mind-blowing.
This is why we have, in the past few years, seen the emergency of Church Management Systems (ChMS) like FellowshipOne, Shelby, and ACS. But these systems are often expensive and clunky. Many smaller churches simply cannot afford the investment nor the dedicated person often necessary to operate and manage these systems.
Small Groups & WordPress
What if instead of using large, complex, costly ChMSes we added functionality to our WordPress websites? Several plugin are available that address this very issue. In fact, I was surprised at how well the WordPress ecosystem has already addressed this need.
The first solution I thought of was the classic BuddyPress. This gives you the ability to create profiles for your members and allow them to sign up for groups. It also has hundreds of add-on plugins available within the BuddyPress.org repo and many more available for both free and paid elsewhere.
Perhaps my favorite solution is Groups Engine. Created by Eric Murrell, the Communications Director for Longhollow, a large multi-site church that has been blessed with explosive growth over the past 15 years. Groups Engine allows you to create groups, add members, perform complex filters and mapping. But tons of other features are included. The only thing I didn’t see that I would want is the ability to do periodic downloads from my church management software if I was running it.
Eric has done some great work on creating a plugin that adds awesome functionality, but has also been built-in a way that is thoughtful and considers the needs of those using the plugin rather than just his own needs.
These are definitely two of my favorite options when it comes to hosting small groups on your website. Have another plugin or solution that works well? Did I miss something in these setups? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!