These are some of the questions that I am most often asked by our small group leaders. There are a lot of different ways to answer these questions but this is the way that I answer them to frame the expectations here at LifePoint. While we definitely have a plan and process in place, there are always special circumstances that arise in any organization so I like to use the idea of Rigid Flexibility in our group structure. In other words, there is a plan in place and we are all moving forward according to that plan but every plan needs some room to flex a little to keep it from collapsing (like a tall building in the wind or the expansion joints on a bridge). My point is that this is how 95% of our groups function but there are sometimes exceptions to the rules.
Again I realize that this is not the only way or maybe the best way for your church to function but this is how we function in our group structure and some of the reasons why.
Where should groups meet? At LifePoint, we meet in homes and we use a home rotation model where each group member takes 1–2 times a term and hosts the group for the evening. We use this model for a number of reasons both spiritual and practical. From a spiritual perspective: We feel like it’s an accurate reflection of what we see in Acts 2, we feel like it’s the best way to have a spiritual influence in the community and we feel like our non-Christian friends are most likely to attend when the group is in our home. From a practical perspective: we don’t have money or space to meet at the church and we already own 200–300 homes where the mortgage, utility bills and insurance are paid (hey just being real here, it’s cheaper), we feel like home rotation is less of a burden on one family than host home strategy (although we do have a few host homes so I’m not totally opposed — rigid flexibility) and it’s somewhat about convenience since our church draws from all over the city, it’s easier for people to meet in their homes in their area of the town.
When should groups meet? Whatever time works best for the group other than church times. It could be 6am for shift workers, mid-morning or evenings. Most of our groups meet in the evenings and my experience is that Tuesday and Wednesday are ideal while Monday and Thursday are close seconds.
What about kids? This is a question that you have to answer if groups are going to be successful in your church. There are a lot of different ways to handle this but at LifePoint it is a huge value for us that families do group life together so we do everything that we can to incorporate kids into our small groups. In our groups, families attend together but when it’s time for the adult’s Bible study portion of the meeting, the kids go into another room of the house for something that we call WildLife. Wildlife is a time of age appropriate Bible stories, memory verses, crafts, etc. It is a lot like VBS. We provide a lesson on our website that connects to what the kids are learning on Sunday and our leaders can download the lesson before each meeting. We also provide a WildLife Kit for each group that has a general supply of resources and supplies that they will need to lead. Each adult member of the group takes 1–2 turns each term leading WildLife on a rotating basis. At the end of the night, the kids come back into the room and share what they learned for that evening. It’s not a perfect system but we feel like it allows us to invest in our kids while at the same time providing an option for our families that is free and convenient.
In summary here are some options as I see them:
WildLife — group ownership – we invest in kids spiritually, we mentor the next generation, we model group life for the next generation of leaders. It doesn’t have to be spiritual the entire time, it can be 20 minutes of a lesson, play the rest of time, report time to parents at the end of the night.
Paid Childcare or Wildlife with a paid sitter — I know a lot of churches where this works but I have had people tell me that they did not attend a group at their previous church because they could not afford to pay for childcare so something to consider.
Childcare at church — Again I know churches who use this model and it works for them but I have had people tell me that it was too inconvenient for them to drive to the church, back their neighborhood for group and back to the church on a school night. They said it took too much time. Again just something to consider if you are thinking about this model.
Teenage or college age volunteer to help. Some of our larger groups have used teenagers to help facilitate WildLife in their groups. I usually ask them to still do the adult rotation but include the teen as an extra set of hands. These groups usually pay for the student’s camp or mission trip as a thank you for an extended period of service. It’s a pretty good alternative to paid childcare if you can find a teenager or college student who is willing to barter their services.
One other option is no childcare but this will limit people’s involvement.
We expect all of our groups to do WildLife – but again Rigid Flexibility – groups with more seniors or with older kids don’t usually offer it but some own it and say we will if kids show up.
What will we study? Most terms I let our leaders choose their own study because I feel like it gives the group ownership which increases buy in and I trust that our leaders know what their group needs more than I do. I do reserve the right to approve the study in order to maintain doctrinal integrity. I usually give them a list of 4–5 suggestions in case they don’t have a feel for what direction that they should go in. Here are the 3 ways we handle studies from term to term.
Group chooses their own study (I try to give them 4–5 Quick Pick ideas each term)
Group chooses from 3–4 studies on the same theme – sometimes our staff will choose a theme (for example: Spiritual Disciplines) and I will give them 3–4 options in that theme to choose from.
Every 18–24 months we like for our groups to all do the same study, usually coinciding with a sermon series.
Who decides what group people will go to? We allow people to choose their own group based on relationship, night of the week or topic of interest. We do try to keep our groups loosely geographical so that people aren’t driving all over the city and to help with group multiplication when that time comes. I always tell new people to try as many groups as they want before making a final decision since all of our groups are all a little different but once they find one that is a fit, I ask them to stick there so that they can connect in community. As a side note, we do not shuffle our groups each term, the group members stay together, they just take a few weeks break and usually pick up 1–2 new people during the break for the next term. We do allow people to make shifts if their work schedule changes, etc.