Revised Small Group System

When I was serving as an associate pastor in Southwest Kansas we transitioned our small group system toward a semester structure. We also made this change when I was a lead pastor in Gresham, Oregon. The semester systems created clear and easy opportunities for more people to get involved in a small group but there were other advantages as well.

* There are regular opportunities for new people to join.
* There are breaks in-between semesters when more all-church activities can be scheduled-reducing competition between church activities and allowing for a refreshing feel to activities.
* Facilitators can take breaks from leading a small group without fear that group members will drop out of small group life. In fact, it is probably a good idea if steady facilitators chose only two or three of the available full-length semesters to lead.
* Some of you group will choose to be a part of other groups but the core of your group won't be forced to split.
* Groups do have to finish by the end of the semester so that people are free to join the next semester's groups. We don't want to create opportunities for people to drop out of small group life.

The breaks between semester are 1-4 weeks. These breaks assume that people develop better through a stress and release cycles. Another advantage is that all-church activities can be scheduled without conflict with small groups (not just calendar conflict but attention, energy, promotion, leadership, etc.).

It is typical to have three 12 week semesters in the year and one shorter semester (probably Summer). I have often encouraged every group to take at least one of their meetings for a play day together and another for a service day. Some groups have been oriented to service rather than focused on study.

Here are some actions that you can consider to make a semester system work effectively.
1. Produce a groups catalog each semester. A catalog can serve as more than an informational piece. It can repeat and reaffirm how groups fit into the church’s process of discipleship. I have also regularly themed catalogs to accentuate the themes that are guiding our worship gatherings as well. (I have included an example below.)
2. This system will help grow the pool of facilitators in the church. Encourage potential facilitators to try one semester. The commitment does not feel as intimidating as an open-ended one and it can serve as a test-run from their perspective and from the perspective of the coordinator, director, or pastor.
3. Produce a list or library of potential curriculum resources. This can help to spur potential facilitator's thoughts and can give them confidence in the materials that they are considering. I originally made the list on this website for this purpose and I try to update it occasionally.
4. Keep groups and the way that the church organizes and encourages them in front of people regularly. Announcements should include regular mentions of where things are on the group calendar. Publications should assume that they are an essential part of the calendar and the life of the church. You might consider structuring your website around your process for making disciples. Include notices for the beginning of new semesters and the opportunity to sign up for new groups.
5. Produce a training course for small group facilitators.
6. It is good when facilitators think of specific people that they can encourage to sign up for the group—especially if those people are not involved in groups already.
7. Design a semester evaluation process that especially offers positive feedback opportunities.
8. Produce a service project list that groups can draw from making it easier for each group to do a service project together each semester.
9. Produce a "play day" list of possible fun outings that groups could do together making it easier for each small group to take one of their sessions to just play together.

If you are interested in a book that gives the backbone of this system check out Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008).

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