Definition: Benchmarking is a tool used to measure or compare your work or progress with others who are doing the same thing. Benchmarking is a powerful tool because it overcomes “paradigm blindness”—the mode of thinking that says, “The way we do it is the best because this is the way we’ve always done it.”
Because it is difficult to get a handle on what is going on in other small groups outside of your own (or your own church), SmallGroups.com does live surveys each month on a variety of small group topics. The purpose of these surveys is to uncover a sense of what is going on in small groups around the world and particularly in North America.
These surveys are not intended to be a scientific sample of those involved in small groups. And benchmarking—or comparing your small group to other small groups—is not intended to be a substitute for the Holy Spirit’s work and guidance in your group. However, knowing what other small groups are doing can be a helpful diagnostic tool and can show what God is up to within the larger small group movement.
With that in mind, here are some results of SmallGroups.com surveys on the subject of starting and growing small groups.
When asked, “What brought the people in your small group together?”
• 33 percent of respondents said their group formed around a specific affinity—singles, newcomers, couples, and so on
• 29 percent said their group was formed through placement (another person assigned members to groups)
• 15 percent said their group was formed around geography (where group members lived)
• 9 percent said their group was formed around a cause or task (ushers, worship team, and so on)
• 14 percent of groups formed by some other means
Group Size and Makeup
When asked, “How many people are in your small group?”
• 48 percent of respondents said 8–12 people
• 21 percent said 5–7 people
• 14 percent said 15 or more people
• 13 percent said 13–15 people
• 4 percent said 4 or less people
Three quarters (76 percent) of all groups have both men and women members. Fifteen percent are “ladies only” groups, while 9 percent are “men only.” Twenty-eight percent of all group members said they were in more than one group (for example, a men’s group and a mixed gender group).
Eighty-six percent of those who responded said they have had people of other ethnic backgrounds than their own visit their church’s worship services and small groups.
When asked, “How long has your small group been in existence?”
• 29 percent have been in existence for 6 months or less
• 19 percent have been in existence for 6 months to 1 year
• 25 percent have been in existence for 1 to 2 years
• 18 percent have been in existence for 2 to 5 years
• 9 percent have been in existence for 5 years or longer
Group Openness and Growth
Most (73 percent) of the respondents said their small groups were “open,” meaning they would always welcome a new group member. However, only 42 percent of small groups said the number of group members had actually increased since the group got started. Forty percent said their numbers stayed about the same since starting, and 15 percent said their numbers have declined since starting.
When asked, “How many new group members has your group gained in the past 6 months (including the startup of new groups)?”
• 24 percent of the respondents had added 0 new members
• 23 percent said 1 or 2
• 28 percent said 3 or 4
• 15 percent said 5 or 6
• 10 percent said 7 or more
Taking a closer look at the numbers, by the time groups had been in existence for 6 months, about half (48 percent) did not gain any more new members. Even by the time a group had been in existence for just 1 month, over one third (35 percent) of groups did not gain any more new members. Thirty-two percent of groups were still gaining new members after they had been together for a year or more, but in general, groups grow the most very early in their lifespan.
A large majority of group members originated from attending the worship service of the same church sponsoring the small group. However, 75 percent of respondents said they have small group members that do not attend their church’s weekend worship services. Seventy-two percent of groups have an unchurched person in their group (12 percent of groups are made up of mostly unchurched people). Over a third (36 percent) of groups said they definitely have at least one non-believer in their group.
Dan Lentz; copyright © 2007 by the author and Christianity Today International