Definition: Benchmarking is a tool used to measure or compare your work or progress with others who are doing the same thing. Benchmarking is a powerful tool because it overcomes "paradigm blindness"—the mode of thinking that says, "The way we do it is the best because this is the way we've always done it."
Because it is difficult to get a handle on what is going on in other small groups outside of your own (or your own church), SmallGroups.com does live surveys each month on a variety of small-group topics. The purpose of these surveys is to uncover a sense of what is going on in small groups around the world, and particularly in North America.
These surveys are not intended to be a scientific sample of those involved in small groups. And benchmarking—or comparing your small group to other small groups—is not intended to be a substitute for the Holy Spirit's work and guidance in your group. However, knowing what other small groups are doing can be a helpful diagnostic tool and can show what God is up to within the larger small-group movement.
With that in mind, here are some results of SmallGroups.com surveys on the subject of what goes on during typical small-group meetings.
The Small Group Agenda
When asked if your small group strives to live out all the purposes of the church (fellowship, outreach, worship, discipleship, service, and so on), 60 percent of groups were striving to incorporate all the purposes of the church into their gatherings. However, only 36 percent viewed their small group as a "house church."
Seventy-three percent of groups begin their discussion time with an icebreaker question or activity. Seventy-eight percent said, "There is a lot of joy and laughter in our small-group gatherings."
Here are some interesting statistics when it comes to small-group snacks:
- 70 percent of groups feature a snack or refreshments at nearly every meeting.
- 19 percent eat a meal together at every gathering.
- 11 percent of groups do not eat at all when they are together.
When asked, "When was the last time your group ate a meal together?", 43 percent responded "last week"; 33 percent responded "last month"; 13 percent in the "last year"; and 11 percent have "never" eaten a meal together.
When asked what groups were doing "right now" for a study focus:
- 40 percent were doing a published study guide or authored book the group had selected.
- 16 percent were doing a curriculum developed by their local church or the group leader.
- 13 percent were doing a curriculum based around their pastor's weekly message.
- 3 percent have an open discussion format with no formal curriculum.
- 28 percent were doing other things or a combination of things (service groups, for example).
Of the total amount of time the group met together:
- 42 percent of groups said the study focus consumed half of their group time together.
- 29 percent of groups said the study focus consumed a quarter of their group time.
- 21 percent of groups said the study focus consumed three-quarters of their group time.
- 5 percent said the study focus only consumed a tenth of their group time.
- 3 percent said the study focus consumed nine-tenths of their group time.
When asked what intentional thing groups did most frequently to promote worship during the group time:
- 41 percent sing together.
- 36 percent have time set aside for prayers of praise.
- 4 percent read Psalms or scriptures of praise.
- 19 percent said they do not have regular intentional activities of worship.
As far as the amount of time a group spends in prayer together:
- 36 percent of groups spend 5–10 minutes in prayer during group gatherings.
- 31 percent spend 5 minutes or less.
- 20 percent spend 10–15 minutes for prayer.
- 13 percent spend 15 minutes or more in prayer time.
When asked, "In the past 12 months, how many evangelistic service projects has your group done?"
- 45 percent of groups had done zero.
- 12 percent had done one.
- 17 percent had done two.
- 10 percent had done three.
- 2 percent had done four.
- 14 percent had done five or more.
When asked about the most recent type of service project the group had done:
- 25 percent served a meal to the hungry.
- 17 percent did an act of service for the poor.
- 12 percent provided cleaning services to someone outside the group.
- 8 percent provided childcare as an act of service.
- 7 percent did some type of construction.
- 4 percent painted as an act of service.
- 3 percent visited the sick.
- 3 percent provided transportation as an act of service.
- 21 percent did some other kind of service.
As one last interesting side note, 68 percent of groups responded that "Confessing your sins to one another" was the most challenging "one another" to apply within their small group.
—Dan Lentz; copyright 2007 by the author and Christianity Today International