Note: This article is excerpted from our Successful Short-Term Groups, a SmallGroups.com Training Tool.
There are many types of small groups: Bible study, fellowship, support, affinity, life stage, and more. Regardless of focus, though, there are only two types of groups: short-term and long-term. Which type works best for your church?
Short-term groups begin with a specific end date. People commit to attending the group until that end point. Most last from 6 to 12 weeks. In my opinion, six weeks is too short. The shortest small-group curriculum is around six weeks in length, so meeting only six weeks means the group won't have time to socialize or do anything other than the study. They won't get a very full experience of a small group. Eight weeks—including six weeks of study plus a get-to-know-you week and a social night thrown in—seems to be a better length.
Even if your main strategy is long-term groups, your ministry can benefit from having short-term groups as well. Just don't switch completely between long-term and short-term groups very often, or you'll confuse people. Simply incorporate some short-term groups into your current structure.
The Benefits of Short-Term Small Groups
Community can be fostered in short-term groups. Just because they're short-term doesn't mean that relationships can't be built. Plus, a short-term group can choose to continue together for another term to continue to build on the Bible study, relationships, and trust they've developed.
People's lives run in seasons. When small groups try to force their schedule upon life's schedule, there's bound to be frustration. So consider the natural rhythms of life in your community. Here's an idea of what a small-group calendar could look like:
- Winter (Mid-January through March)
- Spring (April through May: after Easter and finished when school lets out)
- Summer (Take June and July off or focus on fellowship activities to accommodate vacations)
- Fall (Mid-August through Mid-November as school starts again)
- Christmas (Take December off, or focus on serving together as a church)
Short-term small groups easily form around a topic or affinity. I've found that people like to know what a small group will be studying before they join the group. They want to know what they're in for. Additionally, choosing a topic or study can actually draw people into your group if it's something that interests them. For example, parenting studies especially appeal to new parents.
People can easily move on to another group if a small group doesn't fit them. Sometimes a group just doesn't fit, and a person doesn't blend in the group's relational chemistry. Other times someone finds the group's mission isn't what was expected. The person doesn't want to hurt the other group members' feelings, and may feel trapped. Short-term groups, though, allow for clear beginnings and endings that allow people to move on to another group when the current group comes to an end. With that said, when people leave one group for another, be sure they communicate they're moving to another group in a gracious way. Doing this helps to keep relationships in the church on a positive track without any unspoken weirdness.
Potential for raising up more small-group leaders. Most people think twice before they commit to leading a small group for a long period of time. However, people are usually more willing to lead a group if they know the commitment is only for a short while.
Connecting People Into Short-Term Small Groups
To connect people into groups, you need a catalyst. I define a catalyst as an event or activity that gives people an avenue through which they can join a small group. I've used many different catalysts, and they can all be helpful.