Two weeks ago we began a new small group in our home. This group is designed for high school seniors, college students and young adults.
We meet each Sunday night at 8pm and normally wrap up around 10pm. A good number of the group will be heading back to college this week, but so far we have had around twenty each week.
SO, WHY ARE WE HOSTING A SMALL GROUP?
It's pretty simple. I believe in the value of small groups. I believe in it so much that for years I have been telling people in our church that in order to be healthy and grow as a disciple, it is important to be connected in a small group. It is here that friendships and community develop and personal, as well as corporate spiritual growth can occur. It is also through the small group that we believe living missionally can best be done.
But. . .I wasn't in a small group. I haven't been in one for years.
I just excused it due to the fact I am the pastor of the church. Most of our groups meet on Sunday morning and as it happens, I am preaching during the time that groups meet. So, I had a built in reason (excuse) for not being in a group.
Or so I thought, but then again, God doesn't give much credence to excuses, even if they seem to be valid.
NEW SMALL GROUPS CANNOT BE LIMITED TO THE CHURCH CAMPUS
Throughout my ministry I have been a "Sunday School junkie." I love Sunday School and have believed it in for years. I still believe in the concept and strategy surrounding it. However, it is clear that times have changed and to limit small group connectivity to Sunday mornings on the campus of the church building is short-sighted. We no longer call these groups "Sunday School" for a number of reasons. They're small groups. That's intentional. Not only are the groups not limited to Sundays (even though ours is Sunday evening) but they are intended to remain "small."
WE ARE "STORYING" THE BIBLE
I'm also a curriculum guy. What is being studied matters. There are so many bad "Bible studies" out there that border on heretical teaching. Therefore, we must ensure that which is being taught in a group sponsored by the church is solid. Just because a book is sold at the Christian bookstore does not mean it's good.
We are using material that many of our missionaries and church planters are using globally. We are "storying" the Bible. You can view the material guidelines here. This works great with those who do not have a church background. Though most of our group members do have a church background, we are discovering the value of storying and have stripped away the "Sunday School answers" pretty well.
HOW SMALL IS A SMALL GROUP?
Our group is already at maximum size, but the numbers will dwindle once the spring semester at college begins next week. As we seek to increase the number of groups in our community, modeled after this one, each group will be limited to twenty members.
HOW CAN YOU LIMIT A GROUP TO 20 MEMBERS?
We can limit the group because we set the rules. It's pretty simple. Now, if "number 21" shows up, we're not turning him away, but we are strategically and intentionally seeking to keep the group size to twenty. By limiting the size of the group, we better ensure that people will not fall through the cracks and relationships have a better chance to develop. Our group already is seeing some growth beyond the group time. This size group also eliminates the potential of the attender who doesn't participate or engage. That happens all too often in traditional small groups (i.e. Sunday School classes.)
GROUPS WITH A GOAL
Our group began with some pretty clear ground rules.
- First, our group will have an "end date." Unlike most church groups, this model has a clear ending date in mind. This gives host homes some freedom as well as giving group members a natural break and the opportunity to join a new group. Life schedules change each semester. They do for all of us and this allows that reality to be part of our plan.
- Second, our group will multiply. I stated to the group at our first and second gatherings that we are already seeking to start a new group out of this one. . .and I won't be teaching. I am not equipping the saints if I do all the teaching, all the time. So, to the young adults sitting in my living room each Sunday night, the clear goal is to create leaders of new groups. What if just half of our group began leading other groups within the next two years? That would mean out of just one small group, we would have eleven groups meeting throughout the region. If each of those groups begins with the same model, the exponential growth would be unheard of for this community.
- Third, we are going to "story" the Bible because our desire is to bring friends to the group who do not attend church and would not (most likely) attend a group at a church building.
WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL GROUPS ON SUNDAY MORNING (SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES)
We're not abandoning the Sunday morning model, but I want it to be clear, Sunday morning groups are not our only option and may not be the primary model in the future.
We are not stopping Sunday morning groups. (I just wanted to make that clear for those who are active in a Sunday morning group and somehow hear, or read, things I'm not saying.)
WHY CREATE A GROUP FOR STUDENTS & YOUNG SINGLES?
There are a few reasons we have intentionally targeted these people for our initial group:
- Child-care is not an issue. Yes, we know there are high school seniors, college students and young single adults with children, but for the most part, this group is not in need of child-care. Groups for adults with children have to prepare for this very important need. As we launch new groups, we will develop some ideas for child-care during groups for parents.
- This age group normally stays up later, or gets off work in time for an 8pm group. Personally, an 8pm group is late for me. I'm getting old and yet, I'm changing my bed time to make this group work. :-)
- Sundays at 8pm is the best time for my wife and I. That may seem selfish, but our weeknight schedules are crammed with events for our family and church events as well. Since we currently do not have a regularly scheduled Sunday evening event or service, this becomes the best time for us. Since we're the hosts of the group, and it's our home being used, we get to set the calendar. Apparently, Sunday evenings worksbest for many of our students as well.
- Young adults are key to reaching this community for Christ. Just as other Great Awakenings in history have been birthed through the prayers and evangelism of young adults and older teenagers, so too will the next one (in my opinion.) We know collegians and young adults in this generation seek to be part of stories larger than self. This is the generation seeking Him and I want to ensure we are doing all we can to lead (and maybe follow) them as God awakens this generation for Kingdom work.
IF YOU CAN'T PLANT A GROUP, YOU CAN'T PLANT A CHURCH
I heard a church planting catalyst state that fact a few years ago. I believe there is truth to that statement and since church planting is one our church's "Big 3" we must do more than just encourage people to step out and plant churches. We must train those called out to do that which God has set before them. These groups are designed to grow the Kingdom of God. I anticipate many going through these home groups, leading their own groups and eventually being called to plant churches globally. We're tired of just saying "Amen" to the idea of planting churches. We're positioning ourselves to train the next generation of planters.