David Rudd proffers this timely post on Launching a New Community in 10 Easy Steps. It's a fairly decent list and coincidently I'm starting a new small group (from scratch - something I rarely do) in 2 weeks.
While there are no magic formulas which will enable you to create a true community of people who are sharing life, these ten steps can get you moving in the right direction:
Ten Easy Steps
1. Form a committed launch team. You need 2-3 partners in this venture, and all of you need to be deeply committed to one another and to making the community go. You'll support each other through the tough stages and celebrate together when you taste success.
2. Create a prospect list. I know, this isn't marketing and a "prospect list" sounds cold and uncaring. But you need to work with your launch team to make a list of people you can envision being a part of your community. Put the names on paper and start praying specifically for each person.
3. Invite every prospect. This is just the first invitation, and it should simply be informative. Tell the people what you are planning to do, and when you are planning to do it. Don't ask for a commitment, but ask them to begin thinking about it.
4. Personally follow-up every invitation. If your first invitation was by email, facebook, or phone you need to have a face-to-face follow-up (a phone call is okay, but is not preferred). Ask if your friend has any questions about the group, and if they are thinking they want to check it out. Don't ask for a firm commitment, let them know you'll get them more info.
5. Send out clear information about the group. This information should include where you'll meet, when you'll meet, how long you'll meet, what you'll do at the meeting, whether or not there is food, and whether or not there is childcare. Include contact numbers and emails for those who want more information. Only send this information to people who have already been invited. This shouldn't be someone's first exposure to the group.
6. Make the final invitation. Go back to each person and ask them if they are going to try the group out. Encourage them that they don't need to make a life-time commitment, they can just show up the first week and see what they think.
7. Create a "launch day" checklist. Include everything you need to do to be ready for the first meeting. Think about things like food, chairs, Bibles, handouts, pens/pencils, babysitters, videos, music. It's helpful to walk through the entire time in your mind (from the time the first guest arrives to the departure of the last guest) to get a feel for all the things you'll need.
8. Send out a reminder. Use postcards, facebook, email, text, or phone to remind everyone who has committed to show up that you are launching. The reminders should be no more than two days before your first gathering.
9. LAUNCH. Together with your launch team, make sure everything on the list is taken care of, and enjoy your first gathering. Be relaxed, be informal, be welcoming. Invite everyone to attend the next gathering.
10. Follow-up. Send out a thank you to everyone who attended. In your thank you, reference something they said or did that contributed to the group, and let them know you'd love to have them at the next gathering (remind them when it is). Make a personal contact with everyone who didn't show. Let them know that you would still love to have them at the next gathering.
At the core of every successful community is CONVERSATION. As you can see from these 10 steps, your communication is crucial to creating a healthy space for conversation to happen. There really isn't room for shortcuts, but if you have to take one, don't cut out the communication and the contacts!