Over the years I've surveyed over 4,000 small-group leaders to uncover the key elements that produce vital, growing groups. I've consistently asked leaders how long their meetings are, but I never analyzed how the length of small group meetings impacts their growth until recently.
I was shocked by the results.
I surveyed 1,140 small-group leaders in 47 different U.S. churches. I asked leaders to finish the following sentence: Normally our small-group meetings last:
- Less than 60 minutes
- 60-90 minutes
- 91-120 minutes
- 121-150 minutes
- More than 150 minutes
The results break down as follows:
2.3 percent said a normal meeting of their group lasts less than 60 minutes.
34.4 percent said their meetings go 60-90 minutes.
45.8 percent said their meetings are 91-120 minutes.
14.2 percent had meetings 121-150 minutes.
3.2 percent said their meetings last more than 150 minutes.
Then I compared the length of group meetings to four small-group growth measures:
- The number of people visiting the group.
- The number of people coming to Christ through the influence of the group.
- The number of people joining the group.
- The number of new groups and leaders emerging from the groups.
I found the length of meeting greatly impacted the number of people joining the group. Now, which groups do you think grow the fastest: those with short meetings of 90 minutes or less (a. and b.), those meeting a medium length (c. 90-120 minutes), or those with long meetings of over 2 hours (d. and e.)?
I wasn't sure what I would find out, but I expected it to be groups with short or medium length meetings. I personally have been biased toward medium length meetings. As a small-group leader I have aimed for years for a 90-minute small-group meeting. That seemed like the sweet spot to me, and I've gotten pretty good at keeping the meeting to just over 90 minutes.
Or maybe, I thought, short meetings are better, like the 1-hour small group meetings of some famous churches like Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, the world's largest church, which has tens of thousands of groups.
I was wrong. According to my research, the fastest growing small groups are those that meet for over two hours!
Why do longer meetings draw more people to join the small group? I think I know. The research clearly shows that a primary driver of people joining groups is the level of community or caring relationships that the members experience. In longer meetings, people have more opportunities to deepen relationships.
Let me quickly add that meeting length is not a primary driver of growth. It's much more important that your group has an outward focus and that you as a leader are involving other members in ministry and leadership. Both of those factors—an outreach focus and empowering others—drive all four measures of small-group growth.
But how long your meetings last does have some impact, particularly on whether people decide to keep coming back. I'm not proposing that we all have super-long meetings. But I do think there are some clear takeaways for all groups.
- Don't aim for less than 90 minutes.
- Allow ample time, particularly for the parts of the meeting that deepen relationship: the opening icebreaker question, interactive Bible study, prayer for one another, and food.
- Don't be in too big of a hurry to rush people out the door.
Our small group has tried out a new schedule that seems to work well. Feel free to try it (or a variation) in your group. Our group includes families with preschool children, so we start and end earlier than most groups, but you should be able to get an idea. Each Thursday our meeting follows this schedule:
6:00pm Meal together
7:00pm Icebreaker, Bible study, Worship, and Ministry time
Does it surprise you—like it surprised me—that groups with longer meetings grow faster? Consider how you might allow your meeting to last a little longer by incorporating more opportunities to build relationships.