A Church of Varied Small Groups

A Church of Varied Small Groups

Broadening your small-group options is a good thing.

This article is excerpted from Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry.

When building a church of life-changing small groups, one of the key jobs of church leadership is to constantly broaden the array of small-group options through varied intensity. First timers are going to be reluctant to make a commitment to a once-per-week, two-hour Bible study. But if someone has a good experience at one intensity level, they will vote for more, increasing the intensity of their experience as they mature.

The level of commitment and intensity that people need can vary as they go through seasons of life. If their group participation demands too great a time commitment when life requires a different rhythm, people are likely to opt out completely. To address this, churches should add low-intensity, low-commitment groups to help people connect. God can still work in their lives, even in a less intensive group experience and commitment.

You cannot allow over-the-fence judgment to deem one intensity or commitment level better than the other; they merely differ. It is not about strict categorization; it is about a continuum of connection, about meeting people at their point of readiness for fruitful community.

To direct your thinking about the possible breadth of group experience and commitment, consider the framework in the following table. It begins in the upper left, increasing the intensity at each lower box. Associated with each intensity level is increasing frequency of meeting and group experiences. You can think of some examples of different groups you've seen or participated in that fit the category.

Purpose Meetings per month Experiences Examples
Connection and Support 1-2 Prayer,Sharing, and Serving Serving Small Groups, Community Small Groups, "50/50" Groups
Community and Growth 2-4 Add: Devotional Discussion and Relationship Building Our Daily Bread Reading, Leader Devotional Sharing, Message-Based Groups
Intentional Development 3-4 Add: Bible Study Curriculum Bible Studies, Discipleship Groups, Seeker Small Groups
Leadership and Ministry Development 4+ Add: Spiritual Disciplines, and Skills Training Spiritual Formation Groups, Neighborhood Groups, Turbo Groups

Below you'll find descriptions for several types of groups mentioned in the table.

Serving Small Groups

A set of volunteers organized into a serving group, who take some time to cluster, share needs, pray for each other, and perform their tasks together. Could involve ushering, traffic control, maintenance, setup, or grounds keeping.

Community Groups

An entry level social (i.e. dessert and coffee required!) gathering in a host's home that allows attendees a regular place to see friends, come under the guidance of a leader, and share and pray for mutual concerns.

50/50 Groups

Similar to a community group, but organized so a whole church is assigned a spot to meet semi-monthly (first and third Sunday afternoons, for example) for a one-hour sharing (50 percent) and praying (50 percent) experience.

Our Daily Bread Reading

Our Daily Bread is a time-tested devotional that the leader of a serving community could use to add a moment of reflection to a current volunteer group's meeting, simply reading the day's entry before serving together.

Leader Devotional Sharing

"The best curriculum for every group is the leader's life," Dan Webster has taught. Any leader who has a vital daily solitude experience can use his or her journey with God by sharing it with a community group.

Message-Based Groups

A simple format for lower intensity settings using three simple discussion questions to debrief a weekend message. It reinforces service attendance, applies sermons, and permits pastors to hand off responsibilities to leaders.

Bible Studies

The mainstay for group life, the vehicle through which communities can deepen in grace and truth. Whether facilitated by a written curriculum or a leader skilled at inductive discussions, the Bible is useful in every way (2 Timothy 3:16).

Discipleship Groups

Similar to Bible study, can focus on specific and methodical development of an individual's character and spiritual practices, particularly through a fixed season of study with a group.

Seeker Small Groups

Formed to help people investigate God. Can be lower intensity, but will tackle serious issues requiring intensive study and focus on deep issues of the faith.

Spiritual Formation Groups

Groups that allow for making connections, sharing spiritual practices, and mutual mentoring, therefore increasing intensity. In addition to Bible study and discipleship, these communities fit the "doing life deeply together" description.

Neighborhood Groups

Sometimes organized to be a less extreme group experience, but geographic proximity can dramatically deepen life-on-life connection due to the daily rhythm it introduces.

Turbo Groups

Designed to accelerate the development of a new generation of small-group leaders. Uniquely intense due to the desire to give apprentices accelerated development.

—Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson. This article is excerpted from Building a Life-Changing Small Group Ministry; used with permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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