Many churches in the U.S., Canada, and the UK have launched small groups ministries in which members gather weekly or bi-weekly for fellowship, Bible study, discussions and prayer. Similar to breakout sessions at conferences or small team meetings in the corporate sector, it's an opportunity for deeper engagement in informal settings.
Some of the lessons learned through association and corporate meetings are equally helpful for small group meetings of a religious nature. These tips and pitfalls to avoid are based on these lessons as well as my own active involvement in church small groups for many years.
- Set a specific focus for the group.
Whether it's a group for parents, couples or single adults, the clearer the focus, the more likely the group will have a high degree of cohesion.
- Select a leader and also a member who is responsible for communication.
- Provide a training programme for small group leaders.
Most leaders won't be professional facilitators so it is extremely important to provide training about how to manage small groups, group dynamics and problem-solving. Churches like Saddleback and Crossroads Fellowships, that have a strong track record of running a small groups ministry, have shared what they have learned through a number of resources including Small Group Leadership Training Kit and Building Healthy Small Groups in Your Church
- Select a venue.
Some church small groups meet at the church. Others meet in homes or at hotels and banquet centres during off-peak hours.
- Select a specific communication channel and stick with it.
Some small groups set up LinkedIn or Facebook Groups. Others communicate via email or Google+.
- Clarify how RSVPs are to be handled.
Some groups ask members to notify the leader only if the will not be attending. Other groups ask members to RSVP to the member responsible for communication one way or another no later than a few days before each meeting.
- Set a very clear meeting schedule.
Determine if the meetings will be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Be sure to discuss whether or not the meetings will continue over the summer. Be sure to clarify how meetings that fall close to long weekends and statutory holidays will be handled. It's bet to map out the schedule fully so that members can record it in their calendars.
- Make it a practice to provide at least 24-hour notice if a meeting has to be cancelled.
In snow belts, have a clear process for cancelling or re-scheduling meetings if there is a blizzard that makes travel hazardous.
- Selecting a book with a study guide, leader's guide and DVD can be extremely helpful.
- Determine who will lead each meeting.
In some groups, members take turns facilitating meetings. Other groups have 2 or 3 leaders. The key is to be clear.
- Agree on a set of group norms.
Just as in any other group, cover confidentiality, punctuality, resolving differences, etc.
- Set a decision-making process that is clear to and agreed on by members.
- Understand that conflict is inevitable in any group.
Agree on a process for airing and resolving concerns. Keep the guidelines of Matthew 18:15 - 17 in mind to avoid gossip and backbiting.
- Rotate the responsibility for providing refreshments.
- Make sure to plan a retreat or some group socials so that members can get to know each other better.
Just like any other group, small groups that are church-related need care and nurturing. Keeping this in mind will help ensure that small groups are productive and that they are run smoothly.
For more tips for church meetings, also read Using Mobile Event Apps for Community Churches, Religious Conferences: Taking Part in the Social Stream, and How to Avoid Religious and Youth Marketing Pitfalls.
Photo Credit: David Amsler