Mid-Week Small Groups
We are considering dropping our mid-week “sanctuary service” and offering small groups instead. I would be very interested in hearing from other pastors who have done this type of thing. Did it work well or not? What is the best way to do it? What potential pitfalls should I be aware of?
Our church draws on people from all over the place. The challenge for us was trying to find locations and times where people could get to. People started then quit. Our midweek became a hybrid. We started offering dinner at church followed by 15-20 minutes together for praise, welcoming and offering, then breaking out into small groups. Granted it’s not the “home” feel but it’s what worked best for us.
We use small groups as a supplement, not replacement to our midweek service.
There are those who attend the weekly service who do not and would not attend a small group as we do in homes once/month. I know many advocate to do small groups vs midweek services but in my experience those who do so generally do not have good representation from their church at that service. However that is not the case with us.
Finally, there are budgetary concerns as 30% of our weekly budget comes on through our midweek services which most likely would not come in from small groups.
Here are some reasons why small groups are a good idea.
- Theory is turned into practice in a small group.
- People make needed connections.
- Gifts, talents, and callings can be discovered and developed in small groups.
- Some people won’t or can’t go to Sunday services but will attend midweek small groups.
- Real care and prayer is often easier and more naturally accessible in a small group setting.
Sunday messages help people to have correct beliefs. But small groups help people to have correct behavior!
Many people know that confessing scripture is helpful but do not put it into practice well. Small groups are the answer. Many people know they should lead people to Christ, but really don’t know how to lead someone in the prayer of salvation. Same for healing and provision. Many people know about their authority, but when they actually pray out loud, they revert to weak, traditional, prayers that sound like begging and have no faith at all. Small groups are the answer.
Identify the people who are actually doing what you preach and train them how to lead small groups. Teach them ways to help people put into practice what is being taught on Sundays. Our good pastoral messages have to be put into practice if people are really going to be helped. Small groups are where people learn how to pray effectively. They get to practice speaking in tongues, or to interpret their tongues. Here one can practice spiritual gifts like prophecy and words of knowledge. Also, small groups are a great place to develop new worship leaders and associate pastors.
Running small groups for a season or limited time frame is often a good idea. The good groups can take a break at the end and restart soon. The groups that aren’t working well can fold into the ones that are. Be sure to focus on meeting the needs of your small group leaders and honor them for their time and commitment. Train them and continue to train, support, and meet with them. Then give them breaks so they don’t burn out.
I think it’s crucial to remember (and I’m not suggesting you’ve forgotten) that these decisions aren’t in any way, shape or form a “one-size-fits-all” type of issue. Only through prayer and meditation can we successfully accomplish our assignment with real integrity. However, what we’ve experienced in this arena might help offer a few things to pray and meditate upon.
Our midweek schedule includes ONE corporate gathering each month, held on the first Wednesday of each month. The rest of the Wednesdays are used for our student ministries. Our first Wednesday includes baptisms every month and the entire service is designed with the active believer in mind. (We design our weekends services more with the lost in mind.) Our 1st Wednesday is a very powerful service and most of the Spirit-filled believers look forward to it with great anticipation. It offers the opportunity to introduce newer believers to a deeper flow of the Spirit, as well as a specific moment for more mature people to put a face on those who have been making decisions and taking steps to strengthen their personal walk with God.
This schedule is based off of space more than anything else. We just don’t have room for our students to gather at the exact same time as the rest of our body. So, we didn’t eliminate midweek services JUST to accommodate our small groups. As a matter of fact, we found when expecting Group Life to occur on any one single day we were restricting the growth of our small groups. I’m not suggesting that our groups are outrageous in number because we’ve encouraged them to be held at various times and days during the week… They’re just MORE EFFECTIVE now that they occur more randomly. We’ve never had TONS of groups because that hasn’t really been our focus point. We understand that life-changes occurs in the context of relationships. We get it. We just don’t use small groups as our main contact-point for relationships.
We use our service teams as our focus point for discipleship. We want people to take these following steps:
- Get saved
- Be baptized
- Invite others
- Join a team
- Live generous
We are constantly training the WHY WE SERVE so everybody remains on the same page regarding serving in the body. We don’t want people serving so they will have a job. Hopefully, they already have at least one of those. We don’t want them serving to accomplish tasks that NEED to be done. We want people serving to CONNECT THEM to leaders who are purposely walking with God. I believe that if we can train leaders to truly walk with God, then ANYBODY who walks “with them” will automatically get closer to God, as well! Sure—while we’re doing life together there will beer some task we must perform. Much like in every family, somebody needs to take out the garbage now and then. But the leaders are being trained not to be a performer of tasks, but a developer of people. Or goal is to constantly communicate that people matter MORE THAN projects.
Like everybody else who has attempted small groups, we’ve had numerous experiences, both healthy and devastatingly unhealthy. We’ve been blessed with groups that had growth to the point that they grew right out of the church. Many groups reached a place that they forced leadership to deal with issues that were painful and costly. I have come to the conclusion that, FOR US, we’re more effective raising up leaders of service teams than we are at empowering teachers. Our small groups are conducted in semesters—our service teams are constant. Our small groups are enjoyable, but we work to insure that our service teams are life-giving. I’m even trying to focus more this year on celebrating service teams from there pulpit, while remaining silent regarding the groups. We direct people towards service teams and leave the groups to recruit attenders on their own.
I hope this is helpful in some way to you. I can’t help but remind you, however, that what is RIGHT for you may be drastically different from what is right for us. My prayer is that as you prepare to make a decision for your house that the Spirit of God will explode on the inside of you. That you will hear a voice behind you saying, “THIS IS THE WAY; WALK YE IN IT!”
In 2009, we launched small groups by utilizing our Sunday evening service time. Twice a month, we met in homes on Sunday nights, and the other two Sundays each month, we had our Sunday evening service at the church. Here are some things we learned:
- The move to small groups was the right thing to do.
- The Sunday evening church service, meeting only twice a month—did not work or last.
- We took several months to promote the launch of groups and did sermon series on Sunday mornings and evenings about the need for relationships.
- We recruited and trained leaders and established coaches over those leaders, and the response was overwhelming.
- On our Sunday launch of small groups, we went from having zero in small groups to over 700 all wanting to be in a small group. It was crazy.
The challenge for us was that we had more people that wanted to be in a life group than we had life group leaders. This created frustration. People wanted to be in a group; after all, we convinced them how important it was for their lives. But we did not have a group for everybody. So, we did some last-minute recruiting. This meant leaders were put in place, but had not been properly trained. The small groups led by leaders that were not properly equipped were on the struggle bus and some never survived. If I could do it all over I would:
- Instead of making the launch of small groups a big event, I would let it happen organically.
- I would select some of the best of the best in our church to be small group leaders, then cast vision to them, equip them, and ask them to prayerfully invite people into their groups.
- I would create a training model that is scalable and can be replicated by each small group leader.
- I would cast vision, equip, empower, and let small groups happen, instead of trying to make them happen.
I’m convinced that God has wired us for relationships; we are helped by people, not by programs. It’s following the example of Jesus. When the church can equip people in the context of relationships, help believers discover their gifts, and release the saints into meaningful ministry, we become a church that makes disciples… who make disciples… who make disciples. It’s a picture of God’s blueprint of the local church.
This is a common practice in some circles, not limited to but especially among the “seeker” type of churches. If a church can accomplish all of its vision with this format, it could possibly result in higher participation in both components. However, my question is, “When will you do other types of services?” Let me explain. Sunday services are generally the best time to attract new people to the church. They often have an evangelistic flare that includes an altar call for salvation. They usually do not have extended times of worship or teaching but are strategic in ministering to both the mature believer as well as the immature, the non-believer or the disconnected Christian. I wouldn’t even recommend trying to make this be an “everything” service as that would likely hinder growth and effectiveness. If we don’t offer something more, will they do without? Probably. Will they get it in their small group? Doubtful. Many believers want to go deeper. There are experiences in God beyond 20 minutes of worship, 35 minutes of teaching and a few other components of a Sunday service. Many desire times of waiting on the Lord, gifts of the Spirit, and manifestations of God’s glory. God will certainly move in a highly planned out service and a small group, but some aspects of Him will not be known until we remove time barriers and leave the script. Also, it is not always doable to make Sunday morning a healing service or to minister the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Even communion can be a challenge with the time restraints of a multiple service schedule. We are usually not able to teach by example many of the ways that God moves through and among His people in the two formats of Sunday morning and small groups. There may be other solutions besides a regular mid-week service, but this is at least something to consider.
Right now we do not offer small groups on Wednesday. We are considering doing this.
Right now we:
- One Wednesday a month (the fourth) we do a healing service. Lately we have switched this to a service that we seriously pray for revival.
- If there are five Wednesdays in a given month we have a time of food and fellowship right after the praise & worship. Sometimes we show a video instead.
- We, and I believe most churches from what we know and have been told, have experienced a sharp decline in attendance on Wednesdays.
- We are considering small groups to offer probably 3 different topics on any Wednesday night.
- If we go with small groups, we will take a survey of topics the congregation would like taught and discussed on.
- The congregation like events where they can not only learn, but share on the topic taught.
- We will try to offer spiritual and practical topics to choose from on any given Wednesday.
- Small groups on topics of interest attract people who do not attend the church. We saw this when we offered Rev. Jimmy Evans’ marriage videos.
- Small groups will allow faithful lay members opportunities to teach.
- Small groups help the congregation see that the church is endeavoring to meet spiritual and practical needs by a new format.
- Small groups should increase the Wednesday attendance.
- Even if the small groups are not well attended, the sharing time blesses those who do attend and can open the door for the groups to grow by word of mouth.
- If the small groups are not attended, even by a relatively small number of people, we may have to rethink their value. I do not think that this will be the case.
- We had small groups in homes several years ago
- They went well and were well attended
- We wrote the curriculum the group leaders followed
- The challenge was the leaders were in church on Sunday morning and had to get their homes in order for the group meeting that night
- Eventually we felt the small groups interest was coming to an end so we shut them down
- We also had ‘clubs’ where people got together and did things they had a common interest in
- This only lasted for a short time, though those who participated seemed to like it
In January, 2017 we discontinued our Sunday evening service and started our small groups. We call it “Word Connection.”
Vision for Word Connections
Reach Out to Our Community
With specific focus on the un-churched people that are not attending a church but are open to understand more about the Word of God. We will find them out in our communities, not in the pew next to us! Let’s reach out beyond ourselves, help others and enlarge the kingdom of God.
Connecting to the Word
The pastors of By His Word Christian Center will teach important biblical truths with a video for each session (approx 20 min.). This video will be followed by specially designed questions to help create conversation and solidify the subjects taught.
The Word Connections will give our local church body more of an opportunity for interaction and fellowship with one another around the Word of God.
We now have 18 groups that meet once a week in homes, each home has a host that has been instructed how to conduct the group. There are two key roles for them to fill:
- A host, and
- A group facilitator. We assure them that they do not have to be a top theologian to host a group.
We are growing and it has proven to be a great success. The best thing that can happen is to see a group grow to large, requiring the need to split the group. Then we can start looking to identify someone who can host another group. Our goal is no more than 12 people per group. Also, start on time and close at a good hour and offer prayer for your people’s needs.
Let me start by saying excuse any typos or auto corrected words, I am typing this with one finger on my phone while on break at work.
The best form of discipleship is one-on-one. We don’t have time to do this with everyone. The next best would be in small groups. In larger groups it is harder to meet everyone’s needs.
As I have prayed try to work out this issue of discipleship I have come up with what I think is the main issue. No matter what form of class you provide, getting the people to attend is the real issue.
There is a very small percentage that will hear an announcement and find the class on their own. About ten to twenty percent will come if personally invited and reminded. That leaves the majority of the church being discipled once a week in a large service. I think the best way to reach those people is through an online personal home study.
I was asked to comment on small groups, so here we go.
I like small groups better than a service. If you give homework, and ask for input it keeps people engaged. Answering questions in my opinion is the best form of discipleship. This is also a benefit of small groups. Small groups can also be done at different times, in different places and different days.
The two main challenges I found is approving curriculum and finding leaders. There have been church splits over both issues. When small groups start praying and feel the church should do something different they can get offended and leave. Another thing to watch out for is when the same group of people start following the same small group leader. Having a key person that you can trust to oversee the training and monitoring of the groups is a very good idea. I know as a pastor we think we are doing a better job in these areas than we are. Another challenge with small groups is child care. If it is done at the church you can have one place for all of the kids. If small groups are done in the home you may only have a few that offer child care. In the home we like to separate the responsibilities. One person opens their home, one provides refreshments and another teaches or runs the group. It gives more people an opportunity to serve and allows the teacher to focus on teaching. Hope this helped.