Nailing Down Organizational Specifics in Men’s Ministry

Nailing Down Organizational Specifics in Men’s Ministry
By Niel F McBride, E.d.D., Ph.D

Commit your works to the LORD, And your plans will be established.

It’s time to turn our attention to the necessary organizational details associated with building a small-groups ministry. Are you prepared to face this large task?

Here you must make decisions in fifteen different areas. Fifteen organizational specifics are a lot to deal with, but they represent most of the functional decisions associated with a groups ministry they’re the nitty-gritty.

A quick reminder of two things before we start: First, there aren’t right answers to the various organizational decisions you and/or the planning team face, just appropriate or inappropriate alternatives in light of your situation and your groups-ministry goals. Second, steps 1 through 6 provided you with the necessary background data specific to your situation. Be sure to
incorporate this information into your decision making process. Ready? Go for it!

1- Groups Size

How many members in a group? Groups are collections of individuals. As such, group members often possess divergent opinions, ideas, experiences, attitudes, and expectations. The larger the groups, the more member-related variables your leaders must deal with. Consequently, group success is directly related to group size. A consensus exists among small-group experts: The ideal group size is between three and fifteen people. Yet, my experience causes me to recommend twelve members as the maximum ideal group size. This isn’t a magic number, but it is the figure Jesus selected. It makes sense. If you increase size beyond twelve, you’re expanding the number of potential relationships within the group that must be formulated and maintained. Let me
explain. As group size increases, the potential interpersonal relationships expand geometrically. A group of twelve members has the potential for sixty-six different relationship combinations.

Increasing the group size by just three persons, to fifteen, results in 105 relationships. So, as you can tell, it’s wise to keep small groups small. It’s too easy for members to hide in larger groups. I don’t mean hide in a physical sense, but in a spiritual, social, or emotional sense. It’s much easier for the quiet member to remain silent, the verbal member to dominate,
the less committed member to find excuses for not attending, and the fringe member to remain on the periphery. Of course, these liabilities are manageable, but my point is, large small groups often present major road blocks that hinder group development and effectiveness.

In general, limiting your groups to approximately twelve people is the best way to avoid many obstacles and increase the probability to succeed. But this group size is an Ideal. Larger groups can work if you’re willing to put in extra time and effort encouraging the group’s communication and relationships.

Please note, the group’s type and purpose directly affect group size. I’ve already argued for limiting groups to twelve members, but some groups-albeit very few-actually work at an acceptable level with larger numbers. Content-oriented groups, for example, are often larger than other types of groups. Conversely, task-oriented groups often work better if they are smaller in number. You are free to disregard the suggestions, but here are my group- size recommendations given group type:



Relationship-oriented Groups 3 to 15; a limit of 12 is ideal

Content-oriented Groups 3 to 30; a limit of 15 is ideal

Task-oriented Groups 3 to 15; a limit of 6 to 8 is ideal

Need-oriented Groups 3 to 20; a limit of 12 is ideal

2-Groups Membership

Is group membership cross-generational or from approximately the same age group? The debate rages: Should groups be homogeneous (same age, social status, etc.) or heterogeneous (mixed ages, social status, etc.)? Good logic and reasoning exist on both sides of the issue. Both approaches work. But which is better? I prefer homogeneous groups in terms of age; other factors
can be heterogeneous (male or female, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white, etc). However, please recognize that most people prefer and gravitate to groups in which the members are more like themselves- “birds of a feather fly together.” You may not like this fact, but it’s the truth, especially in relationship-oriented groups.

My bias toward structuring groups based on members’ ages comes from having experienced many approaches. People who are approximately the same age (a five- to ten-year spread) have more in common. This commonality promotes closer friendships, more spiritual growth, and quicker group development. Of course, this logic assumes the groups in question are not task-oriented
groups, which do work reasonably well with a cross-generational membership.

Small groups that include mixed age levels are workable, but normally the groups take longer to develop, experience reduced communication, and struggle with the wide diversity of needs present among the members. Nevertheless, many churches elect to structure their entire groups ministry around cross-generational groups. The benefits associated with such a grouping
strategy are considered more important than any potential liabilities. Cross- generational groups are especially common in small churches where the number of people within the various age groups is not sufficient to warrant “age-graded” groups.

In addition to the question about ages, what about including children in your groups? In general, I discourage this practice for three reasons:
(1) Most children below ten to twelve years of age do not possess the personal and social skills necessary to become “fully functioning” group members; (2) the diversity between a child’s and an adult’s attention span, spiritual maturity, and educational preferences is too wide for most groups to manage successfully over time (but it can work for three or four meetings); and (3) parents are easily distracted when their children, especially very small children, are present. Adults don’t attend their children’s Sunday school classes; why should children attend their parents’ small group? Groups are for adults. Some individuals are upset by this conclusion and feel strongly that groups should be “family units.” So be it, but it’s a very difficult alternative to make
work over the long run. We’ll address child care a little later.

Small groups can be productive ministry tools with junior and senior high school students. Most groups with junior-high, freshmen, and sophomore students require some level of adult supervision, especially junior-high groups. However, by the time students are juniors and seniors in high school, they can participate successfully in self-led small groups because they have
the emerging spiritual, personal, and social skills necessary to make a group work.

3-Groups Availability

Is group membership open or closed? Some groups have a fixed or stable membership, while others are intentionally open and accept members at any time. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. Fixed (closed) groups are better for developing long-term, intimate relationships but can become exclusive. Open groups work well in quickly assimilating people but
often don’t provide the stable relationships conducive to intimate sharing and caring. Content-oriented groups, such as most Bible studies, lend themselves to a “y’all come” approach. On the other hand, groups that stress relationships and are primarily process-oriented need to have fixed memberships. Jesus’ group, the apostles, was a closed group. One good exception to this principle
is the need-oriented groups–support or recovery groups–which are designed to focus on a specific need. In these situations an open, cross-generational group strategy is often preferred and works best.

When dealing with relationship groups, I prefer fixed memberships. The group remains open during the first four to six weeks, to allow for normal membership adjustments, then closes and remains together for a stipulated amount of time. At the end of the agreed-to time, the group reopens, some members leave, perhaps new members are added, the group recovenants (see 13),
and after four to six weeks closes. If included as an element in the groups ministry, this process goes on and repeats itself usually on a yearly basis. This strategy can work for most types of groups.

A church or organization need not limit itself to only one kind of group. With careful planning, it may be desirable to have some groups with open memberships and some where the membership is fixed. Likewise, going back to an earlier issue, some groups may be age- graded while others are cross-generational. The larger a church, the more it becomes necessary to provide a diversity within its groups ministry.

4-Groups Formation

How are groups formed? How creative are you? There are many, many ways to form groups. However, the specific method used is usually based on one of four general methods: choice, assignment, random assignment, or “find your own.”

Allowing people to participate in a group of their choice is my preferred method in forming groups. It spawns an “I want to be in this group” attitude from the start. Adults prefer choices. The best application of this method I’ve seen was where the group leaders, for mats, times, and locations were posted and the church members were then asked to select the group that
best fit their schedule and/or preferences. When a group reached twelve members, it was closed. New groups were offered at stated times throughout the year. “Choice” methods in forming groups have merit because they provide options and are easily adaptable to the needs found in most churches.

Some churches and organizations simply assign people to groups. This strategy permits more precision in managing group size and functions. One large church I’m familiar with, which recently changed the practice, used to interview each person and then assign him or her to a group. Careful attention was given to having the right “mix” of individuals within each group. New
groups began as needed. A highly structured method that emphasizes control, it’s a good alternative in churches with high-authority top leadership that wants to closely supervise the groups ministry. Yet, it’s often perceived as being heavy- handed and lacking the element of choice most adults prefer.

The third option is to form groups using some means of random assignment. Persons who want to be in a group fill out a short ballot stating basic information (name, address, telephone) and place it in a hat (some type of receptacle). The total number of participants is divided by ten or twelve to determine the number of groups needed. Names are then randomly drawn and
assigned to a group until all the groups are filled. This option works well in situations where the people already know each other and are open to being in any group situations such as adult-education classes or choirs. It’s a workable strategy. But while I’ve never seen it used to form groups within an entire church, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t work in smaller churches.

The final general method is to have each leader recruit his or her own group members. A group begins when the leader has gathered a sufficient number of people. One variation on this approach is to have the leaders meet and divide up the individuals who expressed interest in joining a group. Another alternative to assure the whole church is included is to assign an adult
segment to each leader and then restrict their recruiting to that specific classification (i.e., recruit members only among young marrieds, senior adults, or new members, etc.). But whatever strategy is used to implement this find your own option, you need to recognize that this method lacks control and may cause a competitive atmosphere among the leaders as they vie for group members.

Select or devise a method suitable to your goals and situation. If the method doesn’t work well the first time, you’re free to change it next time around. But regardless of the specific method you choose, it’s wise to make sure the people in your church feel comfortable with it. This advice is especially true for small churches.

5-Groups Life Cycle

How long should a group remain a group? There is no required length of time the members must remain together as a group. Here again the options are plentiful and depend on your goals and situation. Most groups exist for a fixed amount of time, from a few weeks to several years. Avoid groups with unstated time limits. Many people feel uncomfortable with and consequently
will not participate in groups that lack clearly defined time parameters (and expectations).

My preference is to have groups meet for one year actually most groups meet for eleven months, taking the month of August off. This strategy translates into about forty- five to forty-eight sessions if holidays and other reasons for not meeting are factored in. Taking August off is a concession I don’t really like. It is comparable to closing down the worship services during August. But that’s another issue.

Given the various goals and objectives pursued by different groups, longer than a year or shorter than a year may be appropriate. One southern California church I’m familiar with uses small groups to assimilate new members. These initial groups only meet for six weeks, then the people are invited to join a more traditional group.

In general, I feel strongly that if groups, especially relationship-oriented groups, are to succeed they must meet for no less than one and a half hours each week for one year at minimum. But this is an ideal. Content- or task-oriented groups often meet only for the length of time it takes to cover the content or complete the task. Need-oriented groups are often ongoing, with
membership changing on a regular basis.

6-Groups Meeting Frequency

How often do groups meet? Ideally, groups meet on a weekly basis. This advice is especially true if you want groups to play a major role in defining (or redefining) your church’s ministry style. Weekly meetings communicate the fact that groups play an important role within the overall adult ministry. If a frequency other than weekly is selected, it means extending the time the groups need to become groups, meet their intended goals, and contribute to making disciples.

Can groups succeed if they meet less frequently than weekly? Yes, but the definition of succeed now even more depends on the groups’ goals. The groups may not need to meet on a weekly basis. Yet, in my opinion, groups that meet only once per month, or less especially relationship-oriented and need-oriented groups are just playing at being groups and don’t have much of a
chance to succeed. Can you imagine anyone arguing to conduct worship services only once or twice per month? Why, then, does it seem plausible to have groups meet less frequently than weekly? It’s only feasible in the minds of those individuals who either don’t want small groups or don understand their role in the church’s growth and effectiveness.

Ask yourself, can we meet our desired goals if the groups do not meet on a weekly basis? If you answer yes, how often should they meet every other week, every three weeks, once a month? It can work, but be prepared to invest more time to reach your goals.

7-Groups Meeting Schedule

When should groups meet? Do you want to structure the day and time your groups meet, or allow the individual groups to make these decisions? Either option gives you many alter natives from which to choose.

The best days and times are those that assure maximum participation. I’ve talked with many people who wanted to be in a group but were unable to do so because they had conflicts between their schedules and the group meeting schedule. Some churches get around this potential difficulty by offering groups on different days and times.

If 6:30 a.m. on Monday works, do it. There is no right or perfect day and time. These decisions need to be based on the groups-ministry goals and your people’s availability. In general, nights other than Friday or Saturday evenings seem to work best for most people.

Some churches elect to have all their groups meet on a specific day and time. While this option has some drawbacks, such as the potential to eliminate people who cannot attend at the specified time, it’s attractive in many situations where (1) all the adults are employed in a similar business or industry; (2) a high degree of supervision and structure is desired by the top church leadership; (3) the group meetings have replaced a traditional meeting such as “prayer meeting”; or (4) a quality program is offered at the church for the children, permitting the parents to attend a group.

8-Groups Meeting Location

Where is the best place for groups to meet? Most groups-ministry experts agree, the ideal location for group meetings is in homes. Private homes provide a relaxed atmosphere conducive to group success, whether the leader’s or a member’s. Some group ministries encourage groups to rotate among all the members’ homes. One caution if you select this alternative: You risk confusion
that may lead to poor attendance. If you still want to use a rotation system, I suggest rotating no more than once per month (assuming weekly meetings), and be sure to publish a schedule. If you plan to have your groups meet in homes, here are three important guidelines to keep in mind:

– Be sure everyone knows the location.

– Avoid promoting false expectations on the part of the host/hostess (size of home, elaborate refreshments, etc.).

– Encourage group leaders to have the members help the host/hostess straighten up after the meetings are finished.

Some churches have found it ideal to have groups meet in restaurants. This option works well for early morning breakfasts and lunch meetings with working adults. Many restaurants have private rooms they will let you use if reserved in advance.

On occasion, such as in rural contexts where great distances separate the group members, it may be necessary to have your groups meet in the church building. If this is the case, try to create an informal atmosphere. Set aside a room and furnish it like a living room in a home. In general, do whatever is needed to create an informal, relaxed atmosphere.

9-Groups Meeting Length

How long should each group meeting last? I recommend no less than one and a half but no more than two hours. Your situation may require more (or less) than this standard. But you’ll have the best results if you stick to a maximum two-hour time limit. There are pit falls associated with longer or shorter meetings (can you think of any others?):

Pitfalls of Longer Meetings

– Mental and physical fatigue.

-Easier to waste time.

– Some people drop out or simply choose not to participate.

Pitfalls of Shorter Meetings

– Insufficient time to accomplish the agenda, task, purpose, etc.

– A “rushing-it” atmosphere.

– Relationships suffer in favor of “getting on with it.”

Encourage your leaders to monitor the time closely. Have them begin and end their sessions promptly at the agreed-upon times. Remind them that their group members’ time is their stewardship. Often, even if a group officially ends on time, people don’t leave immediately. Those who must go feel free to do so. But as the group becomes a group, many will stick around for a while
because they just enjoy being together.

In some circumstances the group members may elect to continue on after the regular stopping time. But this should be a group decision, not the result of just going over time, and not a regular occurrence. I’ve seen people drop out of groups because they, for whatever reasons, didn’t want to or couldn’t stay longer than two hours.

10-Groups Format and Agenda

The term format is used to describe the basic design or structure around which groups are built. Agenda refers to the specific activities groups do when they meet, including the exact time sequencing used to facilitate the meetings. At stake are those familiar questions, what, when, and who. Each element is best determined by your particular context and the goals your
groups ministry is attempting to achieve. Highly structured group ministries routinely dictate all the answers to format and agenda questions, while less structured ministries allow the individual groups to make some or all of these decisions for themselves.

What do the groups do when they meet? This question is harder to answer than it may first appear. The options are numerous. Furthermore, depending on the goals, groups can have many different structures around which the meetings are framed, specific activities are selected, and agendas are developed. Most churches operate their group ministries based on one of the following format structures:

– Set structure: Every group is structured the same and does the same thing, following the same predetermined, set agenda.

– Open structure: More than one group format is made available, or individual groups can select their own format and agenda.

– Varying structure: Groups rotate between several formats and agendas.

An example is needed at this point. Back in 1985, the authors of Good Things Come in Small Groups (IVP) recommended a fourfold structure: nurture, worship, community, and mission. Each element is seen as important to group functioning and needs some emphasis each time the group meets. Consequently, specific group activities are planned and agendas are developed around this
recommended (or required) format structure.

Let’s consider one more example. In discussing his “metachurch” model, Carl F. George (Prepare Your Church for the Future, Revell, 1991) suggests a format consisting of what he sees as four essential actions: love (pastoral care), learn (Bible knowledge), decide (internal group administration), and do (duties that serve those outside the group). These four components serve as a
structural framework, a format (but he doesn’t use the term), for what he calls “cells” or groups. Each cell should include each element, even though the level or mix varies from cell to cell, more of one emphasis, less of others.

Prestructured formats are useful in highly structured group ministries but aren’t a necessity. Electing to use one depends on the purpose and goals governing your groups ministry. If it suits your needs, use a structured format to build your agenda; if not, don’t.

Keeping in mind your groups-ministry goals, your potential group members, the type of group (relationship, content, task, or need), and any demands a prestructured group format may require, one or more of the following activities may be appropriate for your group meetings:

– Bible study (book or topical)

– Discussion (topic, sermons, etc.)

– Prayer

– Bible study workbooks

– Sharing of personal joys, prayer requests, needs, etc.

– Singing hymns and choruses

– Meditation

– Evangelistic Bible studies

– Casual fun (called “fellowship” by some people)

– A defined task (choir; visitation, leadership board, etc.)

– Bible memorization

– Planning and evaluating group tasks

– Scripture reading

– Films and videos

– Others?

Many more alternatives and/or combinations are possible, only your imagination limits you. But let me mention three things that should influence your choices. First, you may find it preferable to include more than one activity within any given group meeting. Second, this is my favorite option, rotate the activities. One group I was in included personal sharing and prayer
in every meeting, but rotated between sermon discussion, focused prayer and casual fun as our primary group activities. Rotating activities kept the group fresh and dynamic. And last, a specific group agenda isn’t an issue if you’re going to allow the individual groups to make their own agenda decisions. Rather, your task is to help them sort through and understand the various options as
they make their selections based on their goals.

When to do what? An agenda is needed to organize the selected group format and activities. You only have so much time to invest in each group meeting-one and a half to two hours. How are you going to organize the time? Are you going to require all groups to use the same fixed agenda, or can they devise their own?

Whatever activities are selected, they must fit into time limits. The common mistake is to include too many activities and run out of time before accomplishing everything planned. To avoid this dilemma, it’s helpful to establish time guidelines that stipulate the amount of time allotted to each format segment and activity within one specific meeting. But once again, it all depends on the type of group and the goals. Thinking about relationship-oriented groups, here is one example (assuming the group meets from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. on a weeknight):

7:15-7:30 Arrive and get a cup of coffee

7:30-7:40 Welcome, news/reports

7:40-8:30 Group’s main activity (Bible study, discussion, etc.)

8:30-8:50 Prayer (individually, as a whole group, pairs, etc.)

8:50-9:00 Administrative details (next meeting, announcements, etc.)

9:00 Adjourn

Using a fixed time structure is helpful, but it mustn’t become a rope binding creativity or flexibility It’s merely a guideline to help implement a format and structure the group’s activities Nevertheless, it is a good idea to follow the agenda as closely as possible Being prepared but deciding to deviate from the plan is far better than having no plan and merely wandering about. You
must help your group leaders understand these issues and help them strive to become good stewards of their group members’ time.

Who does what? The group’s format and agenda are important, but someone needs to take the responsibility for each activity included in the format and agenda This is such an important issue I’ve given the topic its own subsection

Read on.

11-Groups Meeting Leadership

Who leads the meetings? Assuming the planning team is putting together a groups ministry that includes groups with designated leaders, the “official group leaders”, an important question needs answering: Do the designated leaders lead their individual groups every time the groups meet?

Highly structured group ministries, which operate under heavy supervision from the top church leaders, often require their identified leaders to “take charge” and lead all group sessions. It’s not uncommon in these situations for the leaders to meet weekly, receive instruction and requirements from a master teacher/leader, and then return to their own groups and teach what they were

Unstructured group ministries, on the other hand, may include groups that do not have designated leaders, leadership is shared by the group members (more in theory than in practice, however). But in most situations the groups included within a groups ministry have designated leaders The next planning step deals in more detail with structuring and selecting leadership within an
entire groups ministry For now, you should know the alternatives for leading individual group meetings:

– Identified or designated leader: This “official” leader is responsible to plan and run all meetings; he or she does every leadership function during the meetings.

– Rotated among group members: Only one group member plans and runs a specific meeting, but that individual is different each week. Group members, including the identified leader, rotate the responsibility.

– Shared leadership: Working as a team, two or more group members accept the responsibility to plan and run specific group meetings. The needed leadership functions are divided among those sharing the leadership that week, for a number of weeks, or on an ongoing basis.

– Host/hostess: The group leader is the person in whose home the group meets that week or month.

– Combination: Leading individual group meetings is accomplished by using a mix of the alternatives previously listed.

When all is said and done, here are five principles to keep in mind as you sort out the decision as to who leads the individual group sessions:

* Each group session must have a group leader. That leader, whether it’s the identified leader or not, must know he or she is responsible to plan and lead the session.

* Highly structured group ministries, ones that demand that designated group leaders take charge, require individuals who are more highly trained and skilled, have “status,” and are accepted by the group members.

* If you decide to rotate the group leadership, avoid forcing people to take a required turn. Some individuals are not willing to assume group leadership, but make fine group members.

* Over time, the most successful groups employ some form of rotated and/or shared leadership. It’s too easy for group members to become dependent on the skills and leadership of one official leader who leads every session.

* Evaluate your selected group-leadership strategy on a regular basis. It may work with some groups and not with others. Furthermore, does the leadership
strategy accomplish your goals?

12-Child Care
What do you do with the children? Are you going to provide child care as part of your groups ministry, or are you going to ask-each group to make these arrangements for itself? This is an important question because many parents, especially parents with young children, express their frustration because they want to participate in a group but can’t find suitable child care. Are there
creative alternatives to resolve this issue? Yes. Here are some I have seen or used:

1. Have the children attend a church-sponsored program designed especially for them (AWANA, Boy or Girl Scouts, Pioneer Clubs, your own creation, etc.). Parents attend their group meetings knowing their children are well cared for. This option demands careful scheduling. Allow adequate lime for parents to bring their children, travel to their group meeting,
attend the meeting, and then return to pick up their children.

2. Trade off with other groups (or individuals). For example, group A watches group B’s kids on Tuesday night while B attends their group, then B watches A’s kids on Wednesday evening while A meets.

3. If the groups meet in homes and particular home in question has a separate large room, one group member, on a rotating basis, cares for the children.

4. Find volunteers or hire one or more sitters to care for the children at the church facility or in a home separate from where any groups are meeting.

5. Include the children; have a group made up of family units. This can work, but be alert to the fact that having children in the group significantly changes the role and potential benefit experienced by the adults.

Every option has its pros and cons. So, before selecting one, don’t forget to analyze your specific situation carefully to determine which option best meets your needs.

13- Groups Covenant

In my opinion, all group ministries should use group covenants. Does this sound too strong? Perhaps, but covenants are the best tools I’ve seen to help both the groups ministry as well as the individual groups clarify their purpose, establish goals and objectives, discuss expectations, and define functional issues.

What is a covenant? According to my Funk & Wagnalls, covenant is a noun and means:

(1) An agreement entered into by two or more persons or parties; a contract. (2) A solemn pledge made by members of a church to maintain the faith, ordinances, etc. (3) The promise of God to bless those who obey him or fulfill some other condition. (4) A written agreement, as a contract, under seal.

The “canned” definition points us in the right direction, but here is a specific definition tailored to small-group ministries you may find useful:

A small-group covenant is a written compact or agreement that sets forth specific details, principles, and practices the group members commit themselves to uphold for the specified period of lime they meet together as a group.

Why should groups have a covenant? God is our model for using covenants. In the New Testament we read about two covenants–the “old” and the “new”–which govern the relationship between God and man, and between man and his fellow man. It’s this biblical precedent and model that sets the stage for small-group “covenanting.” Consequently, using a covenant (some people like the term contract, but I don’t use the word because it means a legal, binding agreement in our culture) can help your groups to do the following:

1. Clarify the purpose for existing and establish its goals.

2. Demonstrate the idea, “You are important to me,” because a covenant is
in effect a promise or commitment between the members.

3. Clarify the members’ expectations.

4. Set the “boundaries” (standards or norms) for group membership.

5. Experience “team building” during the time the covenant is discussed
and adopted.

6. Provide a basis for group evaluation.

7. Facilitate change.

8. Communicate group expectations to new members.

How are covenants developed? The planning team has two options: to use covenants or not to use covenants For the sake of discussion, I’m assuming the team sees the merit and decides to use covenants. Subsequently, the team has two more choices: to stipulate the covenant all groups use, or to allow each group to negotiate its own covenant.

Stipulating a universal covenant works reasonably well in highly structured group ministries. It’s quick and helps define the groups ministry and clarifies for potential participants exactly what is expected of them prior to joining a group. But stipulated covenants usually aren’t as quickly “owned” by the group members, nor do they permit the group to tailor it to their specific needs. On the reverse side, negotiated covenants frequently take a lot of time to formulate, but permit tailoring and result in higher ownership among the group members.

What are some typical covenant “stages”? If the planning team elects to have each group negotiate its own, the covenanting process usually moves through three stages as the group members seek a mutually acceptable agreement:

PRECOVENANTING STAGE- Talking about the concept, its possibilities and benefits. This usually takes one or two sessions. Be sure to provide the group leaders with biblical and group-dynamics background information.

COVENANTING- actual process of formulating the covenant may take two to four sessions, depending on the specific group. One alternative to assist the process is to provide a blank covenant that outlines the specific choices and options group members may include in their covenant. As well, I routinely provide groups I lead with a premade covenant (see example on previous page)
to start the discussion. They’re told it’s on my computer and can be changed in any way they see appropriate. (Refer to page 97.)

EVALUATION AND RECOVENANTING- The covenant serves as an objective basis for group evaluation during the time the group meets (formative evaluation) and when it’s time to disband (summative evaluation). If necessary, this evaluation may require retooling the covenant itself or reaffirming the covenant for another period of time.

What areas or topics are included in a covenant? Covenants lend themselves to three different approaches: (1) administrative/procedural covenants that outline how the group functions, (2) relationship covenants that stipulate how the group members treat one another, or (3) covenants that include both areas. Depending on the approach you take, you can include some
or all items listed below in a covenant:

– Group goals

– Meeting parameters (day, time, place, etc.)

– Length of duration of the group (weeks, months, years)

– Membership: who? open or fixed?

– Participation norms or expectations

– Confidentiality when it comes to personal sharing

– Meeting format (do what?) and agenda (time structure)

– Child care

– Refreshments/hospitality

– Others?

Group covenants aren’t the answer to every difficulty your groups ministry may encounter. However, they’re one key factor in assisting the ministry to succeed. Covenants are well worth the time and effort invested by the planning team and your individual groups.

14-Starting New Groups

When and how are new groups started? Earlier we discussed how to form your initial groups. Now you need to determine when to start the initial groups and when and how to add new groups once the groups ministry is under way. As with all the specific organizational details we’ve discussed, there are various options for starting and adding new groups. Let’s first examine when
to start your initial groups, then take a look at when and how to add new groups.

When to start your initial groups? The obvious answer to this question is: when you’re ready. Yet don’t be fooled; there’s more to it than meets the eye. As you contemplate when to start your initial groups, be sure to observe these guidelines:

The details discussed in this step must be finalized. “Finalized” means you worked through the issues and have come to tentative decisions, allowing for any necessary adjustments that may be necessary once the groups are under way.

– Group leaders must be recruited and trained. You cannot start groups without the necessary designated leaders, leadership leaders, and ministry leaders (see step 11).

– The season must be right: starting in the fall (September or October) is a common alternative. Many churches start their groups around the same time the public schools begin the new academic year.

– Don’t rush it! Even if you have to postpone the starting date, avoid kicking off your groups ministry if you’re not in compliance with the previous three guidelines.

When and how do you start new groups? Once the initial groups ministry begins, at some point you may have to add one or more additional groups (let’s hope so!). There are no quick answers, but here are four possible times for adding new groups:

PREDETERMINED STARTING: Start at fixed times during the year. For example, each September and February. Most churches use this option.

WHEN-NEEDED STARTING TIMES: When enough people are ready (you pick a number ~ six or eight) and a leader is prepared, the group begins. Most people who want to join a group are willing to wait a reasonable period of time before actually joining. The trick is to find out what’s reasonable and to help the potential new members understand and be patient with the “when-needed” start-up system.

INTERVAL STARTING TIMES: New groups come “online” every month, six weeks, quarter, etc., without regard for the month, season, or other factors. This option works well for large churches that start many new groups during a given year.

ADD TO EXISTING GROUPS: Rather than starting new groups, add new people to existing groups. This option is a big favorite with many churches. It works for some types of groups such as task-oriented groups and content-oriented groups, and in some cases ongoing need- oriented groups, but I don’t recommend it for most kinds of relationship-oriented groups. Adding new people to relationship-oriented groups after the groups have met for four to six weeks causes the loss of whatever trust and confidentiality the members have achieved to that point. In effect, the group must begin all over again because the new members make it a new group.

The last option, add to existing groups, forces the planning team to deal with an important issue: Do you want your existing individual groups–specifically “main-path” groups (see step 4)–to add new people up to a certain membership size and then divide arid form a new group? (Some people don’t likethe words divide or split and refer to this process as “birthing” new groups.)
This strategy for “growing groups” is nice in theory, but I’ve rarely seen it work well over the long haul. Most groups, specifically relationship-oriented and need-oriented groups, view the process as “splitting up our group.” Asking a group to divide (birth, what ever) and form a new group is very traumatic after the members have formed close bonds.

If this adding/dividing option is selected, its success very much depends on three factors: (1) that the group’s purpose and goals lend themselves to the strategy, (2) that the expectation is built into the system from the very beginning, and (3) that everyone knows about it prior to joining the “mother” groups. When it’s a planned part of how the groups work, adding/dividing can be an exhilarating experience. Each individual group plans for it, encourages its happening, and then celebrates its accomplishment.

15-Groups Resources and Budget

What resources are needed and available for your groups and groups-ministry leadership? This question focuses on discovering what published resources are necessary to establish and maintain the groups ministry, its leadership, and the individual groups. Identifying any needed resources provides one basis for developing an initial and ongoing budget How ever, in some cases the identified resources may already be available in your church library, at local or national denominational headquarters, or in the library at a local Bible college.

Three kinds of ongoing published resources are usually necessary: (1) group curricula, (2) training materials, and (3) what I call “encouragement resources.” Group curricula commonly include books, study guides, and workbooks designed for use in small groups. Training materials include handbooks, such as the one you’re now reading, manuals, and books designed for assisting you to train group leaders. Lastly, encouragement resources are books, articles, videos, etc., aimed at providing ongoing encouragement and motivation for groups-ministry leaders at all levels.

As you think about possible resources you may want to use, please ask yourself these questions:

– Do I want to write my own materials or use published materials?

– If published resources are used, how must they be adapted to fit my situation?

– How does the material help in meeting the groups’ purpose and goals?

– Are the materials suitable for the intended purpose?

– Are the materials appropriate given my leaders’ abilities and backgrounds?

– Is cost a factor in selecting published materials?

– Is everyone expected to use the same materials?

– What methods are used to distribute the materials to my leaders?

What are your budget needs? Every church has its own budgetary system and requirements. Be certain to comply with these expected requirements as you put together your groups-ministry budget.

In formulating your budget you can either ask for the exact amount you determine is necessary and then be thankful for whatever amount you get, or you can find out how much you can have and develop a budget around that amount. With either option be as realistic as possible. Some churches play the “budget game”: Ask for way more than what you want or need, because everyone knows you’ll only get a small fraction of the amount anyway. This game is unproductive and must be avoided.

Formulate a comprehensive budget, one that includes all possible areas that require expenditures. Your situation may demand some additional categories, but listed below are the basic items every small groups ministry budget must include:

* Administrative items (paper, postage, telephone, etc.)

* Published resources (books, manuals, workbooks, etc.)

* Publicity tools (posters, mailings, brochures, etc.)

* Recruiting and training needs (retreat facilities, refreshments, materials, etc.)

How much do you budget for each item listed above? I can’t give you an exact answer; your answers depend on several things: the groups ministry’s application level (the whole church, one class, etc.), how many different types of groups you have, the number of individual groups, and your leadership structure. The bigger the groups ministry, the more money it takes.


This step is the most time-consuming as it involves many detailed issues. Keep in mind that you and the planning team are making initial, hopefully well-informed decisions that may need revision somewhere down the line. Trust God to give you the necessary wisdom.

Excerpted from How to Build a Small Groups Ministry by Niel F. McBride, E.d.D., Ph.D

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”