by Dwayne McCrary
The November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News included an ad that read, “Announcing a new era in integrated electronics.” The ad announced that the first commercially available microprocessor was hitting the market. With that announcement, the Intel® 4004 chip launched a revolution we continue to see unfold today. The 4004 chip reminds us of the advantage of small.
Small also contributes to the effectiveness of a Bible study group. I don’t pretend to know what number makes a group small or large in your context, but for me, once a group exceeds 20, it is no longer small. And remember, 10 couples equals 20. In my experience, something is lost when a group exceeds that number.
So what makes small so powerful? There are at least 3 advantages.
Advantage 1: Teaching Options. The larger the group the more limited our options when it comes to how we can teach. Large groups tend to move us into presentation mode and out of teaching mode (which explains why a professor teaching a class of 100 usually lectures). Presentations are about content. Teaching is about engaging the people in the group; tailoring the group time to fit their experiences, needs, and learning styles. Small makes it possible for us to use a variety of teaching approaches, giving us more tools to use when tailoring the group experience.
Advantage 2: Flexibility. A strength of a large group is mass. That mass is also a weakness, limiting the places they can go as a group. For example, if the focus of a particular study was serving, we might move the group meeting to a local ministry location where we can meet and then serve through that organization. The larger the group, the less likely we will be able to do that. Small makes it possible for us to meet in all kinds of locations without overwhelming the location.
Advantage 3: Trust. Our willingness to share is a function of trust. The greater the trust, the greater our willingness to share. When we feel like we know the others in the group, we are more willing to take the risk of sharing our ideas and experiences. Informal conversations that take place as people arrive, when they are sharing a snack, or gathering their stuff to leave nurture this trust. The larger the group, the less likely these trust-building informal conversations occur on a broad scope which lowers group trust.
When a group becomes large, however you want to define large, we may want to begin the process of starting a new group so we do not sacrifice the items listed above.
What other advantages have you found for creating smaller groups?
Dwayne McCrary is a project team leader for ongoing adult Bible study resources at Lifeway, including the adult Explore the Bible resources. He also teaches an adult group and preschool group every Sunday in the church he attends.