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.
There were several benefits of this approach:
- Because the topics were intriguing and timely, people attended because they were curious.
- Because there were only a handful of meetings, people prioritized them and attendance rates were higher.
- Because each meeting covered a standalone subject, there was no barrier to attendance if someone missed the previous meeting. With week-to-week topics, people are not motivated to attend if they have missed meetings. They feel behind on the material.
- Because there was an on-campus option, we easily plugged people into groups who were not in a group before, as well as people who were visiting the church over the summer.
- We raised up some new small group leaders who started out as table discussion leaders at the on-campus event.
With this summer approach we were able to create community around important spiritual conversations, while also taking seriously the different mentality of the summer.
If you are a small group leader, I encourage you to consider something like this over the summer. You can find the material anywhere: articles, blog posts, books, YouTube videos. It doesn’t have to be an in-house video curriculum like we produced. Just find an interesting topic that would be a jumping-off point for group conversation. You’ll motivate your group members to show up, and you’ll offer something fresh that will propel your group back into the week-to-week meeting schedule when the fall rolls around.
Whether or not this sort of approach works for you, I encourage you to think creatively about your summer groups. You never know what God might show you!
Ryan Lokkesmoe (PhD) is the Lead Pastor of Real Hope Community Church in the Houston area. He earned his Master’s degree in New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and his doctorate in Biblical Studies at The University of Denver. Ryan is the author of Blurry: Bringing Clarity to the Bible, and has written for Lifeway and Relevant Magazine. He and his wife Ashley have been married since 2006, and have two children. Follow Ryan on Twitter (@RyLokk) or on his blog (reverbs.weebly.com).