There's nothing complicated about a small-group covenant. It's just a way of spelling out what will happen during the life of a group, and what will be expected of the group's members over that period of time.
Most covenants include these basic elements:
- Information regarding when, where, and how often a group will meet.
- A purpose or mission statement explaining the reason for the group's existence. This may also include specific goals that the group will look to achieve over a period of time.
- Ground rules or expectations of behavior for the people within the group. These usually include things like confidentiality, respect, commitment, and a request for regular attendance.
- A space for group members to sign the covenant.
How to Use This Resource
This Best Church Practices resource contains eight different covenants for small groups. And while they are all somewhat similar in structure, they do have variations depending on the needs of different churches and types of groups. And because all of the material in this resource comes in Microsoft Word format, each covenant can be edited and adapted to fit your needs.
The first two covenants (pp. 45) are basic skeletons that a church can use for all of its small groups. They contain blanks that can be filled in by each group leader to provide specific information for their group. And the "Basic Covenant with Church Logo" (p. 6) contains an image that can be swapped out in favor of your church's logo, and any image of your choosing.
"Group Covenant as a Curriculum Insert" (p. 8) is a great resource for churches that provide groups with Bible studies. The introductory material in the covenant can be tweaked to fit the study, and then the covenant can be handed to the group leader along with the curriculum.
Finally, "Specialty Group Covenant" (p. 9) and "House Church Covenant" (p. 10) can be adapted to fit specific types of small groups—those that have a more defined structure or purpose.
Here are a couple tips that I'll pass along after using covenants in my own small groups for several years.
- Early is better. Many group leaders prefer to wait until the group has "settled in" before they introduce a covenant. They feel that it's better to wait until a group is "serious" before requiring such a commitment. I disagree, mainly because this can lead to unhealthy patterns of behavior within the group that then need to be corrected once the covenant is in place.
In my mind, it's much better to introduce a covenant as one of the first things you do in your first group meeting. This will clarify for everyone right off the bat what the group will be about and what will be expected of them. It helps the group get started on the right foot.
- Get signatures. I encourage group leaders to sign the group's covenant, and to have each member do the same. This officially announces that everyone is now on the same team—that we are starting something meaningful together. It's also very helpful to have a signature as witness if a group member begins violating the covenant and needs to be corrected.
—Sam O'Neal; copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.