Small Group Question

I received a question via Twitter from Matt Henslee of Temple Baptist Church regarding how we do small groups at our church.  Going on the idea of Tim Schmoyer, I thought I would share my response here on the blog to help answer the questions of many.  So, here you go:

 Our small groups are the life blood of our church as a whole.  We have adult small groups as well as youth small groups.  We are a very relationship focused church and the small groups are the best way that we have found to take a large church and make it feel small.  We didn’t come across small groups as an afterthought to growth though.  11 years ago when this church began we were a small group based church.  The church actually began with a group of 9 people sitting in a living room.  Over the past 11 years we have grown to just over 1000 people regularly and the small groups still remain the focus.  

The adult groups meet throughout the week on a weekly basis.  We have groups that meet every day of the week and they meet every week together in the same location (typically in someone’s house).  The groups are open for new people to join at any time so when we have a new person come into the church on Sunday morning we regularly plug the small groups.  As each individual group grows to a consistent number above 12-14 we look to multiply the small group in order to create more space for new people to join the small groups.  There is a constant wave of leadership development taking place to make ready the new group leaders.  
The youth small groups used to meet in the same way but about 3 years ago I made the change to centralize all the youth small groups to meet at the church building on Wednesday night.  By doing this we are able to have families with multiple teens all come to the same location (with gas at just under $4.00 a gallon right now parents love driving to one spot) but they are able to be a part of different small groups – which can create more transparency in the level of what they share with their small groups (they don’t have to worry about their sibling sharing with their parents about what they may be going through)  By making the switch to a centralized location we saw tremendous growth in the number of kids that were attending.  I chalk this up to the excitement level that some teens find in a large group.  
Each week we meet as a large group and worship together with a student led worship team.  After worship there is a short message based on a theme that we as a church are going through – youth and adults all stay topically together which creates opportunity for parents to talk to their teens about the stuff they are working through.  A great book to read on this idea is called The Big Idea by Dave & John Ferguson.  Once the message is done the youth are dismissed into their small groups.
We reach the ages/grades of 6th grade – 12th grade.  Each small group is broken down by grade and gender.  By doing this we create an environment where one message can be discussed with specifics to each age group.  A 6th grader may be dealing with stuff that a 12th grader doesn’t need to work through or vice-versa.  By keeping the small groups gender specific we can also address stuff that guys are dealing with without having an awkwardness of girls in the room and vice-versa.
One of the challenges that this method presents is the amount of space that we need.  With a small group for each gender grades 6-12 we need 14 places for the groups to meet.  Along with this we need at least 14 leaders.  We also try and develop student leaders who will lead a group at least 2 grades below their current grade.  By keeping a student leader apart from leading their own grade they are more recognized by the younger grades as a leader rather than a peer and it makes it easier for a rookie leader to lead without the struggles of challenges from a student in the same grade.  This model does not work in all church settings as churches vary by size and style.  In a smaller church you may want to look at splitting the small groups by Jr. High and Sr. High.  Mixed gender groups also have a value, we have just chosen to keep them separate to create more intimacy in the discussions.
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