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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Doing Small Groups in Semesters

Question: I like the idea of semester-based small groups that meet for 10-12 weeks and then end. But doesn’t that keep deep and meaningful relationships from forming? Doesn’t the group end just as people are really getting to know each other?

This is one of the most common questions about the semester-based small group system. But it is based on fundamentally flawed information. Here’s the deal:
Most church leaders assume that, if involved in a “standard” 18-24 month small group system, 10-12 people will sign up, love being together and become intimate friends. But that’s not what really happens

In reality, some people will click and others won’t. If the group extends beyond 12 weeks, those who haven’t really clicked start looking for ways to get out. Their attendance gets spotty. And even those who do form strong friendships begin to get bored before that year and a half to two years is up.

The goal of the semester-based group is not to encourage intimate relationships, but to create a safe, healthy environment through which basic friendships can form. Those meaningful relationships that start during the semester will continue to grow naturally outside the group after it ends.  At The Orchard Church, Small Groups are "Relate" in our "Reach, Relate, Reproduce" process.  For us, Small Groups are not "grow", "disciple", etc...

We would all be much better off if we stopped promising (and then trying to force) intimate relationships within our small groups. It’s a promise we can’t deliver on. What we can and should deliver is a safe, healthy social environment where people can meet other like-minded people so that relationships can develop naturally.

This truth takes a lot of pressure off of small group leaders. Too often, leaders feel like failures when the people in their groups don’t become great friends.
One side note – if you are like us, you are constantly trying to get unchurched men to sign up for small groups. Realize that these guys aren’t consciously looking for “intimate” relationships, but they would like to have a place where they can meet some other cool people, learn something new and explore what it means to know God more deeply. If you stop talking about the amazing, intimate relationships that will form in small groups, you just might stop scaring them off!


Josh said...

A semester system divides the academic year into two terms, roughly 16–18 weeks each.

A trimester system divides the academic year into three terms, roughly 14 - 16 weeks each.

A quarter or quadmester system divides the academic year into four terms, roughly 12 weeks each, and generally counts the summer as one of the terms.

Barry Hughes said...

Josh, an Orchard Small Group semester is 10-12 weeks. :-)