Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Small Groups in Summer

Summer is right around the corner, and countless churches are facing the same question: What are we going to do about small groups this summer?

It’s a question that matters to small groups ministry professionals, and more importantly, to small group leaders. Often, we do one of two things: (1) cancel our groups over the summer, or (2) forge ahead as if nothing has changed from the school year. Both of these approaches have major drawbacks.

When we cancel our groups, we abandon the one thing that drives the dual engines of community and spiritual growth in our churches. And we do this during the time of the year when more people than ever are looking for a new church home.

If we just push through the summer with our weekly meetings as if it’s the fall or spring, we fail to take seriously the change in mentality that happens when school lets out. At best we will have about 25-30% attendance at our group meetings because people are not up for weekly, long-term commitments over the summer.

Small group leaders need a summer solution that offers discipleship and community but also takes seriously group members’ intermittent availability. I’d like to share one solution that we tried when I was a small groups pastor that worked really well. I hope this is helpful to you small group leaders out there in the trenches, as well as those of you who serve on church staff teams.

During the school year, we would do weekly Bible studies in our groups. But when the summer rolled around, we changed that up. We chose three “hot topics” that would be intriguing and timely. For example, one of them was entitled Responding to Islam like Jesus Would. For that topic, we filmed an interview with an expert on witnessing to Muslims. We also did one entitled Questions Every Christian Should Be Able to Answer. For that one I reached out to Mary Jo Sharp at Houston Baptist University, and we filmed a great dialogue on basic apologetics. A timely topic for this summer might be something like How Would Jesus Vote?

For existing groups, we asked them to meet just once a month over the summer to address the three topics. We provided them a link to the videos so they could watch them as a group and discuss.

For people who were not already in a group, we hosted a corresponding on-campus event where we showed the videos and people had conversations around tables. We did not ask people to sign up beforehand; we just told them to show up if they were interested. We provided dinner and childcare, and some of these table groups launched into home-based groups in the fall.