Being intentional about designing your small group ministry to fit comfortably into your annual schedule will help this ministry meet needs and strengthen your church.
The “several weeks” option is not necessarily an ongoing small group model, but it can provide a great launching pad for a strong group ministry. This option introduces people to small groups and provides a taste of what to expect. At the end of the initial commitment, some churches invite participants to continue as a group or join an ongoing group. October through early November and the season of Lent are good seasons to try this short-term option.
Because of life situations and busy schedules, some churches plan their small groups for a season of the year or approximately 4 months. These churches feel that they cannot sustain an ongoing commitment to small groups but they want to encourage people to learn together and deepen relationships. Many people begin the fall season with a new commitment and willingness to get involved. This season also finds people visiting churches and looking for a new church home. Both of hese reasons make fall a good season to plan a small group emphasis. Another appropriate season for small groups is the period between Christmas and Easter. The New Year often brings resolutions to deepen commitment to Christ and small groups can assist. Because it is winter and cold in much of North America a small group also becomes an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the warm fellowship of other Christians or seekers.
9 to 12 Months
Many churches plan their small group ministry based on a 9 or 12 month schedule. Holiday seasons and the summer months provide a challenge to the regular small group gathering. Because of this, some churches suggest that groups discontinue meeting during certain months to accommodate other calendar issues. Other churches do not take a seasonal break but maintain regular participation in a small group as a high priority. Without guidance, groups may feel that they are supposed to continue to meet during these seasons and then fall apart when attendance decreases.
Some small groups have met for years and see no reason to stop in the near future. Some of these groups are great and become a welcoming place for new people to find spiritual encouragement and new friends. Other ongoing groups become cliquish and actually work against creating an open and welcoming environment in the church. Some ongoing groups also become power brokers within the church creating havoc for any idea or person who dares to disagree with them. Each church will be different and those in charge of the small group ministry will need to deal creatively with these ongoing groups.
Some small group models suggest that groups continually reproduce themselves and their leaders through cell division. When a group grows to a certain size or group members feel a need to form two groups, they are encouraged to do so. Dividing a group can be difficult and painful as relationships change. This model works when identified as the norm and leader apprenticeship becomes a natural part of the structure.