Archive for 31 Day Countdown

Short-Term or Ongoing Groups?


Suppose someone approached you with an opportunity to join an organization that you knew very little about. From what you can tell, if you join the organization, you are in it for life.

Another friend approaches you later in the day with a similar offer, only this opportunity has a six-week trial option that allows you opt out gracefully if you do not feel like you fit into the group.

Which option would you select?

Almost everyone would go for the second option, right? The option with the six-week trial period!

The Difference Between Ongoing and Short-Term Groups

Ongoing Groups
Churches have choices when it comes to the expectations new people have about Sunday School or small groups. One option is the “ongoing group” option. An ongoing group meets regularly, usually weekly, every week of the year. An ongoing group does not necessarily need reminders about group meetings each week. Everyone knows that their group will meet Sunday morning at 9:30, for example. Some of the values of ongoing groups are: they provide ongoing ministry year-round; group members are in consistent instead of sporadic relationships; quality of relationship depth can be quite high. Many churches use ongoing groups for their long-term, ongoing discipleship strategy.

Short-term groups however, usually meet for about six to twelve weeks and have specific start and end dates. Many discipleship groups fit into the category of short-term groups. The curriculum (Experiencing God for example), usually determines the length of time that the group meets. When the last session is completed, the short-term group ends. Some values of short-term groups are: curriculum flexibility; open social circles; and because of the brevity of the group, short-term groups can be more intense and focused.

The Uninvolved Worship Attender Problem
Many churches have more people attending worship than they have in their Sunday School/small group strategy. Most churches have invited these worship attendees to participate in a group. Pleaded with them to participate. In some cases, even begged, guilted, and shamed the unwashed masses of uninvolved worship attenders to get involved in a small group. And usually… to no avail. Church leaders scratch their heads and wonder what will it take to get people that are attending worship to get involved in an ongoing small group.

The Issue
The issue is not that worship attendees do not love Jesus. It is usually not centered around the pastor’s poll numbers either. There are generally three primary reasons why people attending worship are not in a small group:

  1. Existing social circles. By instinct, worship attendees know that the social circles of the church’s small groups are actually closed circles. Though the group members are friendly; they have already established certain habits, inside jokes, and an existing pool of stories that new people do not know.
  2. Worship attendees do not know (or trust) the group leader. Let this scenario run through your mind: You are visiting a group for the first time and the leader calls on you to read from Habakkuk and the passage has words that do not have any vowels. You frantically flip through your Bible looking for Habakkuk while a dozen Bible scholars watch with amusement. Point made.
  3. All the church’s groups are ongoing (read long-term). But we live in a culture of short-term commitments.

Using Short-Term Groups In an Ongoing Group Strategy
Many churches today are offering short-term groups as a way to engage worship attenders. These short-term groups do not compete with ongoing groups, but instead they are used to reach worship attendees that are uninvolved in a group. The church offers short-term groups, often led by the pastor, as a way to engage people attending worship into participating in a group. During the course of the short-term study; friends are made and relationships are formed. As the study draws to an end; the short-term group is extended with another study or two, the pastor enlists one of the group members to become the new leader, and the group is changed from a short-term group into an ongoing group.

Using short-term groups with this strategy is a response to the three issues listed above that prevent many worship attendees from participating in the church’s Sunday School or groups. If the pastor successfully enlists a new leader to replace himself each time, the pastor can continue starting new groups one to three times every year.


Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/Small Group specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. Bob has his own blog at and also helps manage; an online training site for Sunday School and Small Group leaders.

Twitter:  @bobmayfield
Facebook: theBobMayfield
Instagram: @rpmayfield

The Difference Between Open and Closed Groups

Open or Closed

Have you ever driven to a store hoping they were still open? When you drove into the parking lot the lights were on, there were cars there and as you got closer you could see people moving around inside. So you park your car and head for the door only to discover the door is locked.

Without thinking, a church can send mixed messages about their groups. The announcements say, “Sign up for a group today, everyone is welcome!” On the list you spot a “Building Strong Marriages” group that sounds perfect. You and your wife decide to go for it. When you get to the group the leader eagerly greets you and says, “We would love to have you, but we are halfway through an eight-week study. You will have to wait until the group is offered again.” Suddenly, you discover the group, just like the store, has limitations on when it is open. If the group was repeated often, in reality it would just be open a few days a year.

What kind of group do you have? Is it open or closed? What difference does it make anyway?

David Francis and Rick Howerton, in Countdown: Launching & Leading Transformational Groups on pages 11 and 12, explore both of these options. Here are some thoughts. Let’s start with closed groups.

Closed Groups

  • New participants are not accepted after the first couple of sessions.
  • Participants need to meet a requirement to join, such as completing a previous study or being a church member.
  • The group specifies participant expectation with a covenant or agreement, such as confidentiality or a commitment to a schedule.
  • The number of participants is limited by the seating capacity or space.
  • As you can see from this list, closed groups often have many conditions that apply to those who can participate. Without thinking, churches establish groups with conditions that greatly limit participation. The greatest of these limitations is the ability of closed groups to keep guests, regular attenders and members from joining a group when God begins to penetrate their heart.

Don’t get me wrong, churches need closed groups. Many of the topics and ministries a church does require closed groups. The challenge is what to do for those who what to join a group today!

To address this challenge, churches need open groups. Notice the difference in the characteristics of an open group.

Open Groups

  • New people are welcome anytime.
  • You can invite people before they believe or unite with the church.
  • New groups are started when space is limited, to continue to keep them open.
  • Open groups have an intentional outward focus. To meet this challenge, open groups have limited curriculum content. Each session must be designed for a first time guest. Since there is a possibility of the first time guest being an unbeliever the content needs to be usable and understandable for this person. Open groups are intentionally planned to include unbelievers. As a result open groups have the power to change our world.

Tom Belew, Small Groups & Childhood Specialist, California Southern Baptist Convention

What’s the BIG Deal About Small?


You’ve probably heard it said, “get 2 Baptist together and you have 5 opinions.”  The same is true concerning the name used for a church’s small group Bible study strategy.  Fifty years ago every church called their Sunday morning small group Bible study “Sunday School”, but that’s not true today.  For me, it really doesn’t matter what you call it because I’m more concerned with what you are trying to accomplish.

Every church has some type of small groups strategy and again I’m not so much concerned with what you call it as I am with what you are trying to do through your group.  For me a “group” is any small gathering that meets at any time and at any location for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus.  Every group should be focused on reaching non-Christians and maturing Christians.

Most church members are surprised when they discover that well over half of the churches in America have less than 75 in attendance every week.  In America we have a tendency to think that if it’s BIG its better but that’s not necessarily true of a church or a small group.  So what’s the ideal size of a small group?  The generally accepted size of a small group is 8 to 16 in attendance and a class is no more than 20.

Through the smallness of your group or class it is possible to really know other and at the same time to be really known by others.  In the small group its possible to more effectively care for the entire church and to be cared for by the church.  In the small group/class we have the opportunity to discuss scripture and to be personally challenged.

Did you know that even non-Christian groups use the term Sunday School to describe their small group gatherings on Sunday?  Just having “Sunday School” is not enough; we’ve got to be about the mission of making disciples of Jesus.  In my experience about 75% of the Sunday School classes in the typical church are “small” but still they may not be accomplishing the goal of making disciples.

I’ve heard people say, “its impossible to develop relational biblical community and/or authentic Christian fellowship in one hour on Sunday morning.”  They use this a criticism of Sunday School and they are right!  If all a class does is meet for one-hour on Sunday morning then I can pretty much guarantee that they are not making disciples of Jesus.  Do you think that Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Thomas, Matthew, and the others would have done all they did to spread the Gospel after spending one-hour a week with Jesus?

In many churches they use the term D-groups to describe their small groups.  The “D” is a nod toward the goal of discipleship.  The goals of these D-groups are …

  • Devote yourself to being a disciple.
  • Declare your identity in Christ.
  • Develop spiritual disciplines.
  • Display Christ-like character.
  • Defend your faith and share it with others.
  • Disciple others beginning with your own household.
  • Deploy your gifts in missional ministry.
  • Depend desperately upon the Holy Spirit.

I agree but any group that is not seeking to achieve these goals is missing the biblical mission given to all by Jesus in Great Commission.

Is your class too big to be making disciples of Jesus?  Are you content just to have your class meeting for one-hour on Sunday?


Dr. Smith serves as a state missionary with the Georgia Baptist Convention and is the Sunday School/Small Groups Specialist.  Visit their website at for more information and other resources to aid your Sunday School or small group ministry.  You can also connect with Dr. Smith at, or