Design Your Small Group for Maximum Impact

When you think about your small group, was it assembled by design? With some kind of intentionality? Or did it just sort’ve randomly come together?

The same questions could be asked about the small groups in your ministry. Were they assembled by design? With some kind of intentionality? Or did they just sort’ve randomly come together?

These are very important questions that are almost never asked. They’re important because, to paraphrase Andy Stanley, “your small group (ministry) is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

Think about that line for a moment. The results you’re experiencing are directly linked to the design of your group (or your ministry). That should tell us that we ought to be paying attention to the design.

There are a number of important aspects to the design of a group. Keep in mind that like everything else, there are no problem-free designs. Wise leaders simply choose the set of problems they’d rather have. Every design combination will produce different results. Wise leaders choose the design combination that produces the results they want to have.

1. Affinity (men, women, couples, singles, single again, single parents, mixed): Affinity plays a role in determining the studies that are most appropriate and helpful. It can also influence interaction and intimacy.  Intentionally choosing which affinities to use to form groups helps determine the set of problems you’ll have. For example, North Point’s Group Link forms groups for men, women and married couples.

2. Life-stage (college, premarital, newlywed, parents of toddlers, parents of teens, empty-nesters, etc.): Groups defined by life-stage can be very productive from a support and encouragement standpoint. Like affinity, life-stage can play a role in curriculum selection.

3. Intergenerational (including members from a variety of affinities and life-stages): Like every other decision, there are advantages and disadvantages to an intentionally intergenerational format. Proponents argue that younger or less experienced adults can learn from older participants with more life experience. Fans of the life-stage form maintain that the appeal of common interests makes it easier to connect and strong bonds form more naturally.

4. Open vs Closed (are you open to new members or closed?): Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages. Open groups can make it easier to include friends and neighbors of members. Closed groups can help create authentic community.

5. Short-Term or Ongoing (Start and stop, like a semester? Keep on meeting for a lifetime?): Again, both forms have their advantages and disadvantages. Short-term and semester-based groups offer multiple onramps per year, as well as clearly defined off-ramps. Ongoing groups offer continuity and often the sense of family.

In addition to group type, other aspects affect impact. The most important design element probably has to do with what happens in the meeting. Healthy groups design certain ingredients into their regular gathering. I personally believe that the most impactful groups are designed to connect outside of the meeting (and it might be even more important than what happens in the meeting itself).  

Important Note: I’m not suggesting blowing up what you have, simply that awareness of design (the lack of intention is a type of design) will begin to pay off as you take steps toward the preferred future of your small group ministry. 

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Mark Howell
Mark Howell serves as Pastor of Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, NV. He founded, offering consulting and coaching services to help churches across North America launch, build and sustain healthy small group ministries. He spent four years on the consulting staff at Lifetogether and often contributes to ministry periodicals such as the Pastor's Ministry Toolbox and

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