By Chris Surratt
We all know small groups and discipleship classes are an essential part of helping people experience community and grow in their faith.
But churches often disagree about the best place for these groups to meet. Should churches host small groups or discipleship classes on-site at the church building? Or should groups meet off-site in people’s homes or other locations?
There are pros and cons to each approach. A wise ministry leader will weigh the tradeoffs between the two and design a system that best fits the church’s context and vision.
There are several good reasons for groups to meet on-site.
On-site groups promote easier assimilation. The thought of showing up at someone’s home for a group experience is daunting for many people, especially if they are new to the church and don’t have a relationship with the small group leaders. It’s much easier to step out of a church service and into a classroom for group time.
On-site groups streamline child care. Concern about child care is one of the main barriers for families joining groups. It’s also a barrier for potential group leaders. Not every home has adequate space for child care. You automatically erase that barrier by providing groups that meet on-site during a church service with child care.
On-site groups provide more consistency. Church leadership can better guide groups that meet on-site. Staff members or group coaches can visit a group to help a leader. Start and stop times are also more clearly defined. A group leader doesn’t have to worry about people sticking around for an hour or two after the group has officially ended.
On-site groups simplify training. All of the leaders are in one place every Sunday, so providing information and ongoing training can be accomplished by asking them to come 30 minutes early, or stay 30 minutes after. It’s more difficult to find a convenient time for off-site leaders to gather in one location.
There are also several good reasons for hosting classes or groups off-site.
Off-site groups are easier to scale. There are only so many rooms in a church building, and the current trend is not to build educational space. Once those rooms are full at optimal times, there’s nowhere else to go. Small groups that meet off-site can be anywhere, including homes, apartments, break rooms, coffee shops, and clubhouses.
Off-site groups promote more transparency. Because off-site groups are not restrained by hard time limits, there is more time for members to share their lives with one another. If a deeper conversation is needed after the official group time ends, it can continue in the kitchen. There’s no pressure from another class needing the room for the next hour.
Off-site groups can have greater missional focus. The chances of an unchurched person or a nonbeliever attending an on-site group are low. Group members can more easily invite an unchurched neighbor to their homes for dinner with the small group. Also, an invitation preceded by a personal relationship is more likely to result in a member sticking with the group.
Off-site groups foster deeper relationships. Sitting in someone’s living room invites conversations that would not necessarily take place in a classroom. Group members can get to know the leaders better by asking about pictures and mementos in the home. Kids are also naturally a part of the life of the group by just being present in the house during the meeting.
While there are several good reasons for hosting on-site or off-site discipleship groups, here’s another idea—provide both.
Eddie Mosley, groups and assimilation pastor at LifePoint Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, says: “When considering on- or off-site groups, weigh the options. Do not eliminate one to start the other, but consider how you can utilize the advantages of both situations.”
Ultimately, we are called to make disciples within biblical community. That transformation can take place in a multi-use classroom in the church building or in someone’s living room, but it needs to happen somewhere.
- 6 Marks of a Healthy Small Group
- 5 Signs Your Small Group Strategy Is Missing the Mark
- Anchored in Community: The Essential Nature of Groups in Discipleship
- 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Small Group Summer Slump
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a discipleship and small groups specialist with Lifeway Christian Resources. He is also a ministry consultant and coach with more than 23 years of experience serving the local church.