By Allen White
Pastors and group leaders often ask about the most effective meeting schedule for groups. Should they meet every week or is every other week okay? Should they meet year-round, over semesters or Fall through Spring excluding Christmas? What’s better – 52 weeks per year, 36 weeks, 18 weeks? Should discipleship stop for Christian holidays? Here is some direction to navigate this:
Weekly or Bi-Weekly (or Is That Semi-Monthly)?
The frequency of group meetings really depends on the group. There are advantages to meeting weekly or meeting every other week. Groups meeting weekly tend to bond more quickly. In fact, I insist that new groups meet weekly, even if they eventually move to an every other week schedule. One of the first groups I led met every other week. It took us about nine months to start feeling like a group – we were doing a weekly meeting for six weeks when that happened, by the way.
A key disadvantage in meeting every other week is the space between meetings when a member is absent. If your group meets the first and third weeks of the month and the member misses the second meeting that month, you don’t see them again until the first meeting of next month. When you see them again, it’s been an entire month.
There is an advantage to meeting every other week. If a group absolutely cannot meet every week, it’s better for them to meet every other week than not meet at all.
Seasonal or Annual?
For the record, my group meets 52 weeks of the year. I lead a men’s group that meets at lunchtime every Wednesday. As men, we eat lunch every day regardless of the season or holidays. Now, when Christmas is on Wednesday, we will probably take a break for that one. Thanksgiving, however, will always be on Thursday. We like our group this way, but it’s not for every group.
The annual calendar has a certain ebb and flow, because even if you’re children are grown and gone, in the U.S. our lives revolve around the school calendar. School starts before Labor Day (or shortly after the fourth of July, it seems). There is two weeks for Christmas break. Spring break falls somewhere around Easter. Then, of course, there are the three big reasons for being a teacher – June, July and August.
Many churches encourage their groups to start around the time school starts. Why? Because school has a lot of demands – sports, clubs, fundraisers and so on. If a family’s weekly schedule fills up before they consider a small group, there is no day left when the music stops. You have to get the group day in there before the rest of the weekdays are taken.
If your group starts when school starts, then you need a break by Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter. Office parties, school parties, neighborhood parties and church activities begin the rat race we call the Christmas season. ‘Tis the season to be stressed out. Where is the group going to fit?
After New Year’s Day, kids are back in school and the rhythm begins again. With the exception of Spring Break, groups can cruise right on through to Memorial Day. Then, school’s out for summer, and often group is too.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, except this – don’t fight it. Go with the flow. National Community Church in Washington D.C. does not hold services in the month of August because Congress is in recess. Everyone has gone home or on vacation. They take a break from everything, last I heard. How they pay the bills? That’s another matter.
Continuous Versus Continual
Continuous means your group is uninterrupted and never ceases. Continual means it’s often repeated or regularly occurring. What should your group be?
Continual rain means that your lawn is green and your water bill is low. Continuous rain means that your lawn is over-saturated and your house might possibly be floating down the street. Which is better? Has your group ever felt over-saturated?
An intense season of study might call for a break, so the group will be ready for another intense season of study. You might ask, “But, shouldn’t discipleship occur 52 weeks of the year?” I would ask, “Does discipleship occur every week anyway?” Most people show the most spiritual progress during catalytic seasons or experiences. No one can maintain that pace 24/7/365.
Life on Life or Life on Curriculum?
While group life should intentionally point us toward God’s Word and spiritual growth, group life involves far more than study. The Bible instructs us to encourage each other daily (Hebrews 3:13). In order to follow that biblical pattern, should our groups meet daily? That would be impossible. But, a group meeting and group life are not the same things.
You connect with people almost daily by meeting face to face, by text, email, phone, Facebook or Twitter. You can find ways to keep up with the members of your group and what’s going on in their lives. Out of these things I just mentioned, only one requires an in-person meeting.
While Bible study, group meetings and curriculum are important, so is life. You can balance seasons of Bible study with seasons of living. I’ve seen groups take vacations together and go camping together. I’ve even had one group who became The Cruisers, because they sailed the high seas together. They even met a couple on a cruise who later visited their small group.
What Should We Do?
Ideally, I like to see groups meet weekly from Labor Day to Thanksgiving and from New Year’s Day until Memorial Day. That’s what I like to see. But, ideally for the group, you need to do whatever 100 percent of your group agrees to. If you arrive at a 60/40 decision, you have effectively split your group. The best thing to do is try one schedule for a while, then adapt it for the needs of the group.