Health and Growth

7 Ways to Boost Engagement in Your Small Group: An Actionable Guide for Busy Hosts

Small groups can sometimes feel exclusive, awkward, and ill-managed. Use these seven strategies to make deep community engagement simple, easy, and common.

7 Ways to Boost Engagement in Your Small Group: An Actionable Guide for Busy Hosts
by

Paul Maxwell

Some small groups never really “click.” And as any seasoned pastors know, where small groups go, the church goes. If people aren’t building deep relationships outside of the Sunday service, overall engagement will be low. It opens the church up to clique-building, “insider” groups, and a general lack of fellowship in the entire body.

But that’s not what the church is for.

The church is meant to pray for the sick at 2 a.m.

The church is meant to support grieving families when their loved ones have passed.

The church is meant to help each other with temptation when it comes.

The church is meant to listen, care, and minister the gospel to people parched by suffering and secularism alike.

These things all happen outside of the Sunday service.

That’s why you need to take small group engagement seriously:

If your church has any shot at real, lasting growth, your small group culture will be the closer to lock in that growth and to deepen the buy-in of your growing member base.

Here, we’re going to look at 7 ways to boost engagement in your small group so that you can build a legacy of care, and a reputation for loving everyone who walks through your doors, in your community.

1. Use your church app

Your church app should be the center of member engagement throughout the week.  Many churches think that their website is the center of member engagement. But it’s exactly the opposite. The church website is meant for first-time visitors who find you through Google, advertising, or a friend referral. Your church app is meant for anyone who’s been to your church once so that you can send them push notifications, enable them to register for events, collect and adjust recurring giving, and coordinate with their small group.

You shouldn’t require people to visit your website—no matter how good it looks—to get the information they need. People are on their phones almost every second of every day. People are on their desktops maybe 3-4 hours per day if they use it for work. Capitalize on the centrality of the mobile phone in modern digital life by setting up interactive and collaborative small group features on your church’s mobile app.

These features could include a forum, the ability to create unique calendar events, in-app messaging, and the ability to create and receive payment for event registration. People will begin using your church app the way they use Facebook—to stay in touch with friends.

2. Make it easy for new visitors to sign up

It’s supremely common—especially in big churches—for new visitors to get lost in the crowd. Your church should be pointing every member every Sunday to be a member of a small group. 

Make joining a small group as easy as applying through your church app. Now, you don’t want to auto-accept members to small groups. This is a security issue. You don’t want anyone with an iPhone to be able to find all your small group locations. 

So, you should be sending visitors to pastors—ideally wearing color-coded shirts—who will put them in the small group most convenient for them. This weeds out people who aren’t willing to go through multiple social gets to become part of a small group community, and it gives the hosts an opportunity to consent to the new members.

Nevertheless, you should make the door to entry extremely visible. Structure your church service communication strategy so that it’s impossible for someone to walk into your doors and walk out without knowing exactly how to join a small group.

3. Focus on relationships, not numbers

People are lonely. Increasingly in America, even those with happy families are sucked deeper and deeper into internet culture, until there feels like a deep divide between their mental life and the real world. Psychologists are creating cohorts to address this issue as a mental health crisis.

But the church is uniquely equipped to assist in this enterprise by doing the one thing mental health professionals can’t do—real life together with real people.

Find key small group qualities that you can track to ensure that the small group culture is healthy. Check in with the small group leaders—how do they feel it is going? What do they need to thrive? Does the church need to host quarterly church-wide small group events so that new visitors can visit and existing members can fellowship? Do you need to teach on the value of small groups for the Christian life? Are there toxic elements in your small group culture that need to be carefully addressed?

Your small group is like a bonsai tree—you need to tend to it often in order for it to take proper shape and to be healthy. The last thing in the world you want is a huge, growing movement of weird small group culture that’s ready to implode. It’s easy to guard against that.

Set key metrics for group health. Check in with leaders. Check in with members. Look at growth numbers—are they welcoming new visitors? Are there opportunities to start new groups? All of these variables play into the reality of small group engagement. 

4. Double down on food

In marketing, people say “Content is king.” False. Food is king. There is no tagline, sales pitch, or well-designed logo that can wrap the human will around its finger like food. A sweet & tart raspberry sour cream coffee cake. Pumpkin spice scones with a creamy glaze and a dusting of nutmeg. Crumbly apple cinnamon bake—with tender morsels of slow-baked apple folded into a flakey crust.

It’s over. 

People are going to show up.

When advertising your small group, show pictures of food. Bring lots of food. Coordinate with people to get food. Delinquent attenders will turn into food zombies knocking down your door in a matter of minutes.

After that, all you have to do is host.

5. Master small talk

I’m going to be honest with you.

This is the reason most small groups fail. 

Most first-time visitors come to a small group, feel exceptionally awkward and out of place, and never return. While there’s something to be said for “sticking it out,” you don’t want to assume people will be willing to endure social awkwardness for the sake of escaping loneliness. Often the opposite is the case.

As a host, here are a few ways that you can master small talk in a way that makes those you host feel very comfortable. And, these tips can 

The basic principles of small talk. 

Ask about other people, not yourself. Commit to making the entire first conversation about the people you’re talking to. That doesn’t mean you can’t share about yourself—every conversation requires give and take. People want to know you as well. But skillful small talk will shape your instinct to fill conversational silence with questions about your guests. Every answer they provide to you supplies you with details about them that you can ask about. 

Trace this line of details to dig deeply until you’ve sparked an engaging conversation in which you’re learning about something. This saying is trustworthy and true: Interested people are interesting people. People will like talking to you if they hear their own ideas come out of your mouth. Give them the opportunity to say them.

Your personal script.

Have you ever known someone who seems to have a funny story for every event? This isn’t a coincidence. They’ve built this arsenal of stories that work in social situations, and they repeat them.

Come up with three short stories about your life that you can tell in 30-60 seconds. With each social situation, experiment with these stories to see what makes people laugh. Eventually, you will have a stock of refined stories that are attuned to evoke laughter, which is a social lubricant. 

Body language. 

Smile. Relax your shoulders. Find something to do—an object, a task, a social centerpiece that can be the gravitational “sun” of the room while people enter the small group. If you send everyone to the same place, and occupy yourself with the same thing, a flow will occur—like a river—where people will gravitate toward one area, and not overburden the host with too much conversation until the formal small group event begins.

If you really struggle with small talk, try taking a toastmasters class. Some people find these to be very wooden and fake, but they are a fantastic way for people who are nervous speaking in front of people to gain confidence in leading small groups, cracking humor with new people, and giving presentations that are organic and compelling.

6. Plan small group events

Small group events are the icing on the cake for small group members. It’s something to do on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s an escape from the kids (or something to do with the kids). This is where life can feel like “Friends,” but for real. Deep down, everyone wants to be someone who has something to do on Saturday. 

Proactively planning these sorts of events gives small group attendees a reason to engage during the week. Oddly, though time is scarce for many small group members, attending two events is easier than attending one—it facilitates psychological buy-in, and feels important. 

7. Find each other on Sundays

This is the unspoken payoff that every small group member wants on Sundays. It’s easy to take for granted, because talking on Sunday—before and after service—feels so natural once you belong somewhere. But imagine the opposite situation: You walk into church. You sit down for service. You look around. No one knows you. No one knows what to say. The service ends. You walk out.

Sunday can be a very isolating experience for newcomers.

For the lonely, the Sunday church service can feel similar to dating culture—like the dregs of awkwardness.

Now think of what you do with your church small group on Sunday mornings—laughing, catching up, and even standing comfortably together in silence while drinking coffee. These are blessings—fruit, really—of the relationships formed during the week during small group. And they are a grace from God that he gives through small group engagement. If your church makes it easy to join these communities, you will see it in your Sunday service. Small group engagement translates directly into Sunday-engagement.

Over to you

Take these steps and implement them in your church. Make it easy to join. Emphasize food (ideally in pictures). Find ways of tracking relational health—not just the numbers. Plan outside-group events. Master small talk. Care for your members.

If you do these things, you will begin to see results in the quality of your small group of relationships and the overall small group attendance in your church.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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7 Ways to Boost Engagement in Your Small Group: An Actionable Guide for Busy Hosts