Who doesn’t love a Coke? For decades, people were happy with Coca-Cola in its 6.5-ounce bottle. In the 1960s, the 12-ounce can was introduced. So if 6.5 ounces of Coke was great, then 12 ounces would be even better! Love for Coke got even better in the 1990s with the even larger 20-ounce bottle.
We live with the assumption that bigger is better. In 1973, most people were happy with a house that was 1,660 square feet (the average house size that year). Today, the average house is 2,467 square feet. More room for more stuff! Bigger is better, and more is, well, more.
But that rationale is often faulty, and when it comes to your Bible study group, it can actually be detrimental. A smaller small group is better!
Those of us who lead groups like the idea of larger over smaller. You’ve prepped to lead a discussion, and it just feels better when you’re leading 50 people rather than 10. We can feel affirmed, feeling like we must be doing something right because more people are attending. But a larger group doesn’t mean more people are learning or being discipled. In fact, it could mean fewer people are truly growing in their faith.
Group study is meant to be interactive, but as the size of the group grows, participation drops off. People may be present, but they’re not engaging. A lot of adults do not like talking in large groups. So with each person who joins the groups, willingness to talk lessens. Conversely, a smaller group makes people more comfortable and willing to talk, discuss, and even ask questions.
An ideal group is 8-12 people. If your group grows beyond that, start a new group. A group of 8-12 is small enough to help individuals feel comfortable with each other and build relationships, but it’s also large enough to allow the conversation to be robust.
Will people discuss in a group larger than that? Yes, but you’ll notice it’s typically the same few people who talk; the rest just sit and listen. It becomes easy for the majority to become passive participants, not really engaging with the group or the content. A small group “forces” people to be a part of the group, engage with each other, and engage with the Bible study.
If your group is large, consider dividing into two groups. Enlist someone to be your apprentice. Coach them and let them see how you lead the group; then when it’s time to divide the group, you’ve got someone ready to take the reins of facilitating the new group.
Until the time comes when you create two smaller groups out of one, you can still encourage more participation. As you throw a discussion question at your group, ask them to get in sub-groups of 3-4 and discuss among themselves.
Go ahead and think big with your soft drink and super-size your fries. But when it comes to engaging Bible study, think small.
Lynn Pryor is a publishing team leader in Adult Ministry at Lifeway. He’s a long-term veteran of starting and leading Bible study groups.