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How To Keep A Small Group Small (the art of subgrouping)

After reading last months post on Group Size, a friend smiled and said, “It’s more art than science isn’t it.” He was right, and when it comes to successfully sub-grouping, his observation rings even truer. So get ready to exercise the left side of your brain as we discuss the art of sub-grouping.

Sub-grouping is temporarily dividing one group into two or more groups, and the emphasis is on the idea of “temporarily.” If your group sub-groups from the start of a meeting to the finish, that’s really just two groups meeting at the same time and location, and that is not what we’re after when we talk about sub-grouping. In fact, the goal is not to make two groups out of one, the real goal is to increase a sense of closeness and connectivity that leads to individual personal growth within the small group.

For this reason, we want to encourage you to begin sub-grouping early in the life of your group and to do so frequently. As always, we expect leaders to lead through God’s perfect and creative wisdom. Mix up your sub-grouping strategy as needed to keep things fresh.

Here are a few ideas and strategies:

Stage ISub-group for 30 minutes or less.

  • Set aside time near the end of group and split up men and women for a time of connection and prayer.
  • If you routinely share a meal, consider setting two tables – stage the meal with an icebreaker question, or a short discussion on the sermon notes.
  • Depending on your study, you may find it helpful to divide into two discussion groups for a portion of the questions. Many studies finish with application questions – that’s a nice break and it allows time to refresh the coffee cups, grab dessert and divide into two or more groups. This can be done by gender or in couples – think creatively and change the makeup of your sub-groups periodically.

Stage II Utilize sub-grouping strategies for about half of your group time.

In our small group, we currently spend the first 15 minutes gathered together socializing as people arrive and make final food preparations. We then sit down and eat at two tables, varying the mix of people week by week, as we catch up and/or discuss a few questions from the sermon notes. Next, we gather for about an hour as a large group to discuss our study.  Near the end, we split up men and women for a time of connection and prayer. All in all we spend somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour in two different sub-group settings.

Stage IIIThis could be considered the pre-planting phase.

You have an emerging leader who is planning to go through the GroupLaunch process. You may even have another couple who wants to join your emerging leader. Your group is well accustomed to sub-grouping, it’s part of the group DNA, and they look forward to it! The group has been actively praying, both individually and corporately, about God’s plan for the group.

In this phase, sub-grouping could easily make up more than half of your meeting time. It’s  possible that only the social time at the beginning and end of your meetings are spent together as a large group. Even in this stage, varying the makeup of the sub-group week by week is still a great idea.

Sub-grouping could be viewed as a more intimate walk on the trail. The larger group sets up camp, pitches tents, prepares and shares a meal and then sends out smaller groups to explore and discover. After a time the larger group reconvenes to break down camp and move out again as a larger expedition. A larger group accomplishing more through smaller units.

Last month we talked about group size and the importance of embracing on open group mindset. Sub-grouping is a very practical and strategic way to keep a small group small while remaining open to new group members.

Any group can benefit from sub-grouping in some form or another, so give it a try, we’re confident that you’ll be blessed in the process!

Paul

Discussion Questions

  1. If you currently sub-group, share with your fellow leaders ways you’ve done this, and the results you’ve seen.
  2. Share any concerns you have with sub-grouping. Can you think of any potential obstacles?
  3. Talk about any other sub-grouping strategies that could be used in the small group setting.
  4. In what ways do you think creative sub-grouping could be successful given the unique makeup of people in your group?
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Posted by on March 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Are You Open?

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!

Paul

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?

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Disciple Maker – What it ‘means’ to me… Part II

In my last post (sorry for the absence, I took a month off after the birth of our second child) we were dealing with the critical question of whether or not a biblical passage can have multiple meanings or “personal” meanings. I tried to make the case that although a passage of scripture might have many applications for our lives, it has one and only one meaning for all people and that meaning is found in the text. For the group leader, maintaining the distinction between meaning and application is an invaluable tool and can really help to keep lines of communication open in a group setting.

A very important question remains though.  How can we as group leaders help our group to discover what God’s word is really saying so that we come to know God better and correctly apply His Word? Here are a few suggestions. Space is limited so please post questions for the benefit of all.

1) Approach the Bible as a Detective – A good detective does not take theories into his investigation, but rather creates his theories based on what the evidence tells him. To be effective in discovering what happened, a detective must be deliberate about remaining objective and letting the evidence tell the story of the crime. The same is true when trying to discover the meaning of the Bible, we need to do our best to drop our preconceived notions and observe the text so that we can “pull-out” the meaning from the text.

2) Take your Time – An easy mistake to make when doing a Bible study is to rush into application. One of the most amazing things about the Word of God is how powerfully it applies to our lives. However, if we rush to get to application we run the risk of misapplying the text because in our haste to understand how the text applies we do not take the time to correctly understand what it means.

3) Do Some Homework – The 66 books of the Bible were written for us, but they were not written to us. The better we understand the original audience, author, and circumstances of the book we are reading, the greater the insight we will get into its meaning. Taking time to learn about the historical background and the setting of a book provides tremendous insight into the meaning of the text and will greatly enrich your study.

4) Context, Context, Context – In real estate the three most important things are location, location, location. In Biblical studies it is context, context, context. We must interpret the passages of the Bible in the context in which they were written. Context provides meaning. For instance the word “bark” by itself can have multiple meanings; it could mean the outer coating of a tree, the sound a dog makes, or the manner in which a drill sergeant gives orders to his recruits. The only way to know what the word means is to see it in the context of a sentence. The same holds true of a verse from the Bible; the only way to know what it means is to consider it in the context of the passage which contains it.

5) Go Looking for God – I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make in a Bible Study is to lose sight of the most amazing thing about the Bible – that it is the revelation of the God of the Universe. The Bible is first and foremost God telling us about Himself and His love for us. When studying the Bible it is easy to become so concerned with how it applies to our lives that we can miss the greater gift of what it tells us about God. I truly believe that if “getting God” becomes the central focus of our Bible Study, and we go in looking to know who He really is, we will find Him. The desire to pursue God over an above ourselves is the core element for successful interpretation. If we really want to connect with the meaning of the Bible we must, above all, seek to pursue the source of all meaning.

Mike

Editors note: Study Bibles are great tools. they often include introductions to each book of the bible which include information on the historical background, setting and the books author.

Also… we constantly make changes to the content of this blog, so keep your eyes on the right sidebar for up-to-date information on Serving Opportunities and new Resources. Check out the new Lending Library tab in the upper bar. We’ll be adding more Small Group study ideas in the weeks ahead!

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in The Disciple Maker