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Small Groups

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Most churches that I know of who are utilizing “small groups” or “cell groups” don’t know why they are doing it, beyond “It seems to work among younger generations better than Sunday School or Sunday night church.”

I wonder how many really understand the dynamics of using small groups and what they are trying to accomplish other than substituting something new for something else.

Do you use Small Groups?  How?  Why?

What do you call them?

How do you train leaders?

How do you divide groups and when do you do it?

Where do they meet?

What do you do with children?

How are they designed to grow? (from new members joining the church funneled to the small groups, or from small group members drawing new people to the group from outside the church?)

Do you organize around age, gender, location?

Do you count them?  If so, how?

If you use small groups instead of Sunday School, do you take an offering?  If so, how do you get it into the church?

Just a few questions we are looking to answer as we get ready to look into small groups.

If you’ve got answers, we’re all ears.

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8 Responses to “Small Groups”

  1. Mike Woodward
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 11:37 am

    Art, our church is just beginning to yield fruit from several years of investment in small groups.

    Quick background of our church: small/medium (180 in worship) non-denom (strong baptistic influence). We meet on Sunday morning at 10AM for worship. There is no Sunday school other than children’s church and childcare.

    When the church was planted five years ago, small groups were instituted because that’s what PDC said to do…;)

    In the last year we have become more intentional in making small groups (we call them LifeGroups) be the major part of our disciple making process. It’s also the best way for our people to connect to each other.

    We have not formally trained leaders (YET!), but we’ve used our pastors and wives primarily as our leaders. We are now moving to the “next generation” of leaders. We are looking at a time of fellowship and training in March for our leaders.

    Although we resisted it at first, we now use age/life demographics as our primary way of organizing groups. It is just plain reality that certain demographics have the same rhythms in life, so we finally went that route. We use a combination of closed and open groups to get people involved. We have Men’s and Ladies groups that are open, while our Couples and Family groups have been closed. The leaders from the Couples and Family groups are responsible to recruit their own group and have a much longer term view of their group.

    We meet primarily in homes, with the exception of our Men’s “supergoup” and two Ladie’s “supergroups”. They use the church facility.

    Our couples groups tend to be our empty (or almost empty) nesters, so they do not have any childcare issues. We have two Family groups that include children. One group doesn’t have anything formal for the kids, the other either includes the kids in the 30 minute study, or has an alternative activity/movie. Both groups keep their kids in the same home the parents are meeting.

    As I mentioned, this has been primarily about connecting people, but we are starting to see some movement to getting our small groups to think missionally. I’ve ripped off your Institutional versus Missional church posts to start the process. ;)

    We only track who is involved so that we can target those who are not!

    Hope this helps!

  2. art rogers
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 12:31 pm


    Thanks! Great information. I really appreciate your transparency in what has worked, not worked and what you are looking to do in the future.

    I am particularly interested in the variety of groups. It would seem that your groups are very diverse.

    I noted that Northwood (Bob Roberts’ church) does the same thing when I was there last year, right before we left for Vietnam.

  3. art rogers
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 12:33 pm

    Oh, and as for the IVM, I am honored to know you are using it that way. And humbled.

  4. Mike Woodward
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 1:19 pm

    BTW, I left off the most important part, the content!

    We generally use a DVD or book study of some practical concept as a hook (marriage, parenting, etc.), but that is only a part of our ‘system’. We also added some concepts (derived from Neil Cole’s Cultivating A Life for God) that add specific and daily study of scripture to the mix as well. There is also a component of accountability dealing with spending time in scripture. Neil Cole describes the urgency of this as planting with seed (scripture) versus seed-substitute (good books). This is not implanted in all of our groups, but that’s what the training in March is for!

    I will say that things really started rolling when all of the pastors bought into the concept by leading their own groups. Andy Stanley makes that a strong point in his small group teaching.

    We’re still tweaking and prodding, but we are starting to see a cultural change from the once a week Jesus fix to the concept of a gospel driven community.

  5. Kent House
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 10:53 pm

    art, we began small groups with a five-fold purpose in mind. these purposes were communicated to the church for 60 days before voting to incorporate small groups into church life. They purposes are:

    1. to become better stewards of sunday evenings (we were averaging about 20% of our sunday morning worship attendance in our sunday evening worship services;
    2. to answer the need every church i know of has regarding discipleship, or the lack thereof;
    3. to better assimilate new members into church life (every new member of our church is strongly encouraged to join a small group);
    4. to give our church membership greater opporunities of intimate fellowship with other christians (sunday school does not provide the time nor the same climate as a small group);
    5. to discover, develop, and utilize new leadership needed in all areas of church life (instead of using the formula many churches use, that being, whoever is boisterous and never misses a church function gets to lead).

    three things happened to make the transition to small groups a success.

    1. our church went through a foundational change regarding church leadership. within a year of my coming as pastor, a staff member who had served 10+ years under four pastors left. he, for all practical purposes, answered to the “power brokers” of our church;
    2. we lost 38 people (14 families) to another church in town, all who were members of the “old guard”;
    3. we called a minister of children/families (as your church has done) and have made families ministries intentional, resulting in many young families joining our church during the past 18 months, numerically recovering from those who had left, and bringing the average age of our church membership to 31.

    God used the above three events to change the culture of our church, making small groups an easy decision for our congregation. i don’t believe we could have started small groups if these things had not happened.

    *we call our small groups LIFE, using an acronym from Living In Fullness Everyday.

    *they meet on sunday evenings at 5:30 p.m. in lieu of traditional sunday evening worship services. (we have one LIFE group meeting at the church for those who believe that you have to come to church in order to be the church. every church has a group of those.)

    *each small group was curriculum driven in its genesis. once formed, each group became stable.

    *most groups eat a meal together and the host home can change from week to week; however, the leader of the group is stable.

    *all curriculum is approved by the pastor or the minister of children/families.

    *we report the previous week’s attendance in our weekly worship guide, giving numerical validation to sunday nights. we now have 70% (148) of our church’s average sunday school attendance enrolled in a small group, with an average of 60% attending.

    *when a group reaches an average of 16, or 20 enrolled, that group is divided (all groups and the leadership of each group understand this from the beginning).

    *some groups are kid-friendly, some are not; those who are, are responsible for their children, with the church willing to pay for in-home child care if necessary.

    *the pastor and the other two full-time staff lead a group. This puts us in “good stead” with those in the congregation that may suggest we would get sunday nights off if we were not involved in leading.

    sorry about being long winded, but our LIFE groups have breathed fresh life (pun intended) into our church and i am excited about it!

  6. Kent House
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 11:00 pm

    one more thing. our average weekly attendance of our small groups is 60% of our sunday school attendance, not 60% of our small group enrollment, as it appears i said earlier. last week we had 119 in small group attendance, a far cry from the 40 or so we had attending sunday evening worship services before small groups.

  7. art rogers
    on Feb 9th, 2009
    @ 11:06 pm


    Thanks for the info. Are you/have you considered utilizing these groups missionally?

    Have you considered setting them free to adopt and advance particular engagements at their own discretion?

    What does that look like?

  8. Kent House
    on Feb 10th, 2009
    @ 9:36 am


    i wanted to use them missionally regarding the super bowl party, however we had ours at the church and asked each group to tailgate in our family life center with the ball game amplified on a whited wall. we enrolled a few more on that night and used the evening as a promotion for the next study.

    we have began talking in staff meeting of having backyard bible clubs this summer instead of the usual VBS. the bible clubs would be organized by the LIFE groups, meeting in the evenings of various homes of that particular LIFE group which would give us several more “preaching points” than just one home, and overall the possibility of several dozen throughout the town. we are asking if we should do this during the same week period for everyone or spread it out over the course of the entire summer.

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