Over the years I’ve surveyed over 4,000 small group leaders to uncover the key elements that produce vital, growing groups. I’ve consistently asked the leaders how long their meetings are. But I’ve been too busy looking at other things and actually never analyzed how the length of small group meetings impacts their growth.
I finally took the time to do this. Wow! I was shocked by the results. I think you will be, too. Or maybe you’re smarter than I am.
In this round of research I surveyed 1,140 small group leaders in 47 different U.S. churches.
The specific question I asked them about their meeting length was: “Normally our small group meetings last:” to which they could answer:
a. Less than 60 minutes
b. 60-90 minutes
c. 91-120 minutes
d. 121-150 minutes (2.5 hours)
e. More than 150 minutes
Just 2.3 percent said that a normal meeting of their group lasts less than 60 minutes, 34.4 percent said that their meetings go 60-90 minutes, almost half (45.8 percent) said that their meetings are 91-120 minutes, 14.2 percent had meetings 121-150 minutes, and 3.2 percent said that their meetings are more than 150 minutes or two and one-half hours long.
I compared the length of group meetings to four small group growth measures:
1. The number of people visiting the group.
2. The number of people coming to Christ through the influence of the group.
3. The number of people joining the group.
4. The number of new groups and leaders emerging from the groups.
I found the length of meeting only impacts the third of these growth factors, the number of people joining the group.
Now, which groups do you think grow the fastest: those with short meetings of 90 minutes or less (a. and b.), those meeting a medium length (c. 90-120 minutes), or those with long meetings of over 2two hours (d. and e.)?
I wasn’t sure what I would find out, but I expected it to be groups with short or medium length meetings. I personally have been biased toward medium length meetings. As a small group leader I have aimed for years for a 90-minute small group meeting, so often I’ve led meetings that went just over 90 minutes. That seemed like the sweet spot to me; perhaps the research would validate my bias. Or maybe, I thought, short meetings are better, like the one-hour small group meetings of some famous churches like Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, the world’s largest church, which has tens of thousands of groups.
I was wrong. The fastest growing small groups are those that meet for over two hours! My hunches and biases have again been obliterated by solid research!
Why do groups meeting longer have more people join them? I think I know. The research clearly shows that a primary driver of people joining groups is the level of community or caring relationships that the members experience. In longer meetings people have more opportunity to deepen relationships.
Let me quickly add that meeting length is not a primary driver of growth. It’s much more important that your group has an outward focus and that you as a leader are involving other members in ministry and leadership. (You can read more about those things in another recent post.) Both of those factors—an outreach focus and empowering others—drive all four measures of small group growth.
But how long you meet does have some impact, particularly on whether people decide to keep coming back. I’m not proposing that we all have super-long meetings. But this is what I think this says to all of us:
1. Don’t aim for less than 90 minutes.
2. Allow ample time, particularly for the parts of the meeting that deepen relationship: the opening icebreaker question, interactive Bible study, prayer for one another and food.
3. Don’t be in too big of a hurry to rush people out the door.
This is how my wife Vicki and I schedule our current small group that meets each Thursday:
6:00 p.m. Meal together (yep, we eat together ever week)
7:00 p.m. Meeting
– Small Group Icebreaker
– Bible Study
– Ministry Time
8:15 p.m. Dismissed
We have a group that includes families with preschool children so we start and end earlier than most groups.
Did it surprise you, like it did me, that groups that meet longer grow faster? What insights or questions do you have about small group meetings and their length?
This article originally appeared here.