Group Life Cycle Models: A Comparison

The life cycle of small groups has been studied by a variety of researchers, both secular and religious, for several decades. Here are some of the models they've come up with.

The life cycle of small groups has been studied by a variety of researchers, both secular and religious, for several decades. Christians can benefit from the extensive research done in this area, as the basic phases of group life cycle are generally agreed upon by most group theorists.

Each theorist, however, divides the life cycle into slightly different numbers of stages, and proposes slight variations in the time periods necessary to complete each phase. The following brief reviews are given for comparison. For more information, refer to the sources referenced in the footnotes.

1. Johnson and Johnson

Johnson and Johnson's seven-stage life cycle model is based on an earlier four-stage model developed in the 1960s. The four-stage model of forming, storming, norming, and performing was based on leaders who were non-directive, passive, and made no attempts to intervene in the group process. In contrast, the Johnson model utilizes a leader who is aware of and attempts to influence the group process. The seven stages are: Defining and Structuring Procedures and Becoming Oriented; Conforming to Procedures and Getting Acquainted; Recognizing Mutuality and Building Trust; Rebelling and Differentiating; Committing to and Taking Ownership for the Goals, Procedures, and Other Members; Functioning Maturely and Productively; and Terminating.

2. InterVarsity

InterVarsity follows the classic four-stage model under different names: Exploration, Transition, Cohesion/Action, and Termination. The model below is from Steve Barker:

  1. Exploration. The key issue at this stage is inclusion. Members are asking three sets of questions:
    1. People: "Do I feel a part of this group? Do I want to include the others in my life? Can I trust the others enough to risk expressing my true thoughts and feelings?"
    2. Power: "Will I be included in the decision-making process of the group? Will my ideas be included in the discussion?"
    3. Purpose: "How will the group use its time? What kind of commitments will the group ask me to make? Will the group meet my personal needs?"

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