Small Groups 101

I am currently at the Small Groups Advanced Training Conference at Willow Creek as we seek to better enhance our new venture in HABFs (Home Adult Bible Fellowships), which tend to operate more like a “small group” then a “Sunday School Class.”

The majority of the conference is very basic in presenting the theological rationale for community, stressing the need for a communal philosophy, and helping church leaders determine their small groups/community strategy.

The progression of the seminar is basically following Willow’s checklist for evaluating small group models. The list follows:

  1. Clear Strategy (biblical support? vision for the church?)
  2. Point Leader (their role? empowerment from senior leadership?)
  3. Coaching Structure (organization & structure? supervision process?)
  4. Promote Leadership Development (evaluation & feedback process?)
  5. Connection Strategy (assimilation pathway?)
  6. Create Open Groups (meeting format & frequency? use of curriculum?)
  7. Expanding the Ministry (kinds of groups?)

When it comes to the kinds of groups that tend to exist within the church, they usually center around one of the following “bents:” 1) Affinity, 2) Mission, or 3) Geography.

Which kind of group model do you feel is most effective…affinity, mission, or geography? Can a model have all three? How?


~ by Dave Smith on May 1, 2008.

6 Responses to “Small Groups 101”

  1. Hey Dave,

    I’d be really interested to hear how much they talked about their recent Reveal study. Maybe in a response or another post. I think there is a lot to be learned from that study in several ways. In the first place, their openness to even do the study and then their honesty in humility with their results.

    Surprisingly, the groups I have found he most enriching have been based on Geography. Being “forced” into communal settings with people I don’t really know all that well has resulted in important developments, changes, and growth.

    But, it’s obviously not an either/or here. In my case, affinity developed over time, and we became aware of mission as well.

  2. I wish I had more time to contribute to this conversation. There are such strong merits to all three. I think there is room for all three to exist in one church.

    Missional and Geographical seem to work better in the short term, while Affinity seems to have the best results over the long haul of life. If you are doing 10-12 month groups, the former two work great. But with HABFs, which have a longer lifespan, I’d be inclined to lean toward lifestage.

    This would be a fun discussion to have with your team, which is way ahead on this topic!

    I would add this—HABFs are radically different from ABFs, and not just because they meet in homes. They need to be treated as their own animal, and not just “ABFs that meet in homes.”

    You said they are, “more like small group than Sunday School.” Yes, but there is a huge holdover from SS world, and that is the open format of attendance. That works okay in a larger group, but in a smaller setting (<12 people) the consistency of attendance is critical. If people are really going to open up, predictibility is HUGE. I want to know I’m going to see the same people each week, and it’s good for the group to be closed.

    However, closed groups should always be short-term (<24months) groups. Or else you end up with… well, you know.

  3. Hey Ben and Rich…great comments.

    Ben, funny, but they never mentioned the Reveal study, and there was really no time to bring it up.

    Rich, totally agree with the potential of HABFs and their distinctness from ABFs. Right now we are seeking to give Dane further support, allowing point people to work on each model, while upholding both approaches as a community option. I think right now we feel like our value of community has heightened so much, that we want a variety of approaches (campus and neighborhood).

    Good call on keeping closed groups short-term. I think that makes really good sense and allow newcomers to join a group at the turn of a new season. Another valid approach and has shown some strong results in a lot of churches (i.e. yours!)

    You are more the expert here, so really value your input. Thanks.

  4. This is a great topic and one that I don’t fully understand but of course…have strong opinions about. Most of my experience leading small groups has been with Young Life and naturally these groups are short term (during high school) but tend to grow and split as the students friends come to Christ and got involved with discipleship.

    Since I/we have been at the Chapel (8 years) our experience with ABF’s has been interesting. It makes me wonder if it might not be beneficial if ABF’s were more short term or if they got to a certain number they could split. What I have noticed is that as the ABF’s grow it actually becomes two seperate groups; the original group or old timers then the newer people who can’t get in to the “inner-circle”. This can be difficult for folks to break into and can cause people to avoid ABF’s all together. Several friends have shared similar eexperiences with ABF’s that have been around for a long time.

    When you figure out…let me know 🙂

  5. Oh yeah, as for the kinds of groups…I don’t think you can have one without the other two. Geography seems to be the catalyst, affinity the draw and mission the force. Does that make sense? I haven’t thought this through but seems to be my experience.

  6. Missy, I think you summarize it well in your second post, and some very honest and accurate observations about the dangers of the ABF model becoming too inclusive. The need to reproduce is a part of the ABF “policy,” however rarely enforced.

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