The a2b3 meeting today at Eastern Accents had 26 or so, again filling as many tables as we could manage to reasonably fill. I asked the question "How do you keep your calendar" and got a full round of answers, as many as you would ever need.
The meeting is at the edge of what the venue can handle, but I want to keep inviting new people to it (every Thursday; you're invited). So somehow there needs to be a growth strategy that absorbs new people in but that doesn't expect all 280 people on the email list to show up weekly because I know that they never would fit.
How do you cope with community growth? In particular, if you have an organization that has regular meetings and it outstrips the capabilities of its venue, what do you do to keep it going? Some ideas.
1. Hold the meeting more frequently. If the monthly meeting is full every time, do a second event on alternate weeks. This is what movie theaters do with popular films (matinees, midnight films, 10a showings) or what busy religious congregations do.
2. Move the meeting from place to place. Some people will come if it's convenient enough, so if you move from place to place you'll get a variety of people attending who wouldn't otherwise because it's incrementally less convenient. Motor City Connect has ten meetings in eight cities around the Detroit area every month, with the idea that it's going to be somewhere close to you some time.
3. Let the group subdivide laterally, with some part of the original collection of people doing something related at a different place and a different time. The a2b3 group spawned (in some sense) the microcoworking group, which started with one day and has expanded to three days at three different locations.
4. Raise the bar for participation, so that your community grows more slowly. At an extreme, you get new member initiation rituals that approach hazing, and so anyone who wants to stick around really wants to stick around; at the extreme, this coupled with no new member recruitment gives you groups that stop growing and start to grow old with the same people there every time.
5. Grow into different forms, e.g. take an offline group and put it online, or take an online group on one community platform and add it to another community platform. a2b3 has a very strong and functional mailing list, so people don't have to be at the meetings to post a job offering or get bike repair recommendations or locate a trusted network security auditor (to give but three examples).
6. Use one group to bootstrap the creation of a new group, and then pull your energy out of the first group. In a religious setting this would be a splinter church, and just by that very name you get some sense at some possible social friction that would result.
7. Move your focus from local groups to national or global ones, and grow a community of practice globally rather than just locally. Wiki Wednesday meets on the first Wednesday of the month worldwide; the Web Analytics Wednesday group coordinates Wednesday meetings worldwide. The local meeting is probably still local, but it's part of a bigger world.
Some of these growth strategies yield more managable growth; others recognize that groups might just reach a happy steady state where you don't really want to multiply your size.