One of the greatest challenges small group leaders face is managing group size while at the same time embracing an open group mindset. When intimate friendships have been established within a small group, it can become difficult to know how and when to introduce change to the makeup of the group.
This is a delicate topic with many variables, so let’s jump in and clarify a few items.
What are we asking you to do?
• We are not asking anyone to split their groups in order to “birth” a new one – most of us lead small groups, we don’t like the split and birth model, and we’re pretty sure you don’t like it either!
• We are asking you to invest in people (i.e. make disciples) and if God calls them to the small group leadership role, wonderful! If you’ll begin by investing in people and allow God to call them, we’ll take it from there!
• We are not asking you to train and raise up new small group leaders. As you make disciples, our prayer is that God would make clear the ministry He has prepared for them, whatever that might be.
• We are asking you to encourage potential leaders to attend Inform to gather more information about our GroupLaunch process – the next step for emerging leaders.
• We are not asking you to implement any particular small group life-cycle model. We are trusting you as leaders to seek God and His plan for your group.
• We are asking you to adopt an open-group mindset.
What is an open-group mindset?
An open group mindset does not mean your group is always open. There are many good reasons to close a small group for a season; during a particular study, a group member crisis, childcare management, or simply because the group is no longer small and you’ve run out of room!
An open group mindset does mean that you, as a group, are actively addressing (through prayer and dialogue) possible plans to overcome the present obstacle keeping you from being open.
We also recognize that some types of groups, eg. Men’s & Women’s groups, may serve a slightly different purpose than a traditional Community Group, and therefore remain intentionally closed for longer periods of time.
What about numbers?
Assuming meeting space and childcare are not limiting factors, how many people should be in a small group? As a guideline, we’ve defined a small group as 6-12 people (4-8 for gender specific groups). Experience has shown us that in a group with more than twelve, intimacy and comfort levels can begin to erode.
When do you introduce sub-grouping?
Sub-grouping is a great tool to increase connectivity in a group even when the group is small, but If you’ve reached twelve or more in your small group then it is probably time to implement some level of sub-grouping. We’ll address some ideas on how to sub-group in a follow on post.
We’re full, what do we do now?
If your group is full, let the Small Group Admin or your LifeSupport Leader know you’re temporarily closed. We’ll update your status on Groupfinder to reflect your groups status.
The next step is to invite your group to begin praying about your specific situation. What will it take to open your group to new members? It’s important for the whole group to engage in the discussion and prayer – everyone in the group needs to “own it.”
Consider your options; do you keep a large and growing group open and risk losing intimacy? Do you encourage your core ally couple to attend Inform and risk them leaving your group? Do you simply close the doors, avoid planning, and embrace isolation at the risk of stagnation?
God is capable of revealing a number of creative solutions, so invite your group members to seek His wisdom along with you.
Doing nothing is also a choice, but it’s risky. Groups that remain open and grow to an unmanageable size without addressing the elephant in the room, have chosen a path that often results in declining attendance, and/or hurt feelings and broken relationships. On the other hand, groups that fill up and quietly close the doors and go “underground” can also miss God’s best.
These decisions and conversations can be difficult, hopefully they will serve as one more motivator driving us deeper into dependence on our Living God!
The following questions are for discussion in your next LifeSupport meeting.
1. Have you seen a connection between intimacy/openness, and the size of a small group?
2. Based on your experience at what point does intimacy begin to break down, how do you identify it, and how do can you creatively fix it?
3. Is it reasonable to close a small group? If so for what and for how long?
4. If your group is closed, would you consider praying about solutions along with your group for a period of time?