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Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is.Ephesians 5:15-17
Have you ever been on a trip, a vacation, or a hike—just trying to get to a destination—and the map or GPS you’re using shows one route, but there are other options? So you put in the one you think looks like the most expedient, but it turns out that due to obstacles or circumstances unforeseen, the alternate route would have been quicker?
I like to think that this example helps give some framework for how we can think about structuring our small group time. Small groups are similar in that we should have an end goal (a destination), and a plan for how to get there. As I thought about this topic, the Lord prompted me to look back over my life and recall all the small groups I’ve been in. Let me tell you—it’s a LOT! They range anywhere from inductive bible studies, moms’ groups, student girls, college young women, and general women’s Bible studies. What came to mind was how even though each group had a different makeup, they all had one goal in common: to grow spiritually. However, the way the time was structured in each group varied, depending on several factors unique to that particular group. Much like having alternate routes and/or circumstances that affect how we reach the same destination, we can apply this same principle to how we structure the time in our small groups.
I love planning for the start of a new season of ministry, and fall is my favorite time of year! As we get ready to kick off a new season of small groups, here are four tips to help you consider how to structure your time.
Know your purpose. What is the end goal for this group? What area of growth do you hope to see by the end of the group? Is it a desire to see a specific area of spiritual fruit? To strengthen Bible literacy skills? To develop a deeper community among the members? Keeping your end goal in mind will help you plan the structure of the time you have with your group each week. Determine the goal or purpose of your group and then establish a basic framework for your time. Build in the most important components and have those as the foundation for the framework.
Remember to allow for flexibility and group makeup. For some groups, building in more time for conversation and catching up is important. For women who are in a life stage where their schedules are limited, the time might best be used by spending a bigger amount in the Word. It really depends on the make-up and life stage of your group.
Know your time frame. Knowing your purpose will help you know how to arrange your time to meet that goal. Small groups vary in the time allotted: some have only an hour; some can have up to two hours. It helps to break up your overall time slot into segments for each component. Here’s how I break up the one and half hours I have with the moms’ group I lead:
- Fellowship/conversation: 30 minutes;
- Scripture focus: 20 minutes;
- Discussion: 30–40 minutes;
- Prayer: 10 minutes.
Decide how much time you want to allot for each segment. You may need to adjust as the weeks go on—be sensitive to where the Lord leads and keep the purpose in mind as you direct the time of the group.
Know your group. If you’ve been in many small groups, you understand that the dynamics in the makeup of the group can affect how the group gels and grows together. For instance, some members might know each other well, some could be new, some may have great spiritual depth, and others might be new believers or young in the faith. These and other descriptors can affect how the group as a whole operates and functions. Knowing the demographics and makeup of your group can help you navigate your time.
For example: In the moms’ group I lead, we had grown smaller as a group and had some new moms coming. So last year our focus was on developing relationships, creating an environment for deeper connections and space to process beyond surface knowledge. This led to the moms having more opportunities to lean into how spiritual truths translate into practical application for their everyday lives. How did that affect how I structured our time? We made sure to build in a generous chunk of our time on the front end for conversation, food, and real-life connections. We allowed a good bit of time for spiritual principles and Scripture and then left ample time for sharing/discussion on those deeper spiritual applications.
Know and communicate the group’s expectations. In Kandi Gallaty’s book, Disciple Her, she discusses the idea of establishing a covenant at the very beginning of the group. “The covenant is simply your process written down. It is everything you hope to accomplish and what you expect of everyone involved.”1 I love this idea, and one of my friends who leads the women’s ministry in her church has been using an adapted covenant version for her small groups. She shared how helpful this has been for the overall growth of the group and that the women appreciate knowing and agreeing to this commitment upfront so they are all on board with how the group will operate.
A few more tips: One of my friends who leads small groups offered the practical suggestions listed below. Knowing how to manage your group also helps create wise use of time in the group.
- Have a definite end time.
- Honor the time of your members. Don’t go too long, but don’t end too soon.
- Know your talkers (value them; make sure to talk with them afterward).
- Set an alarm on your phone to indicate when you’re getting toward your ending time.
- Managing prayer requests: Provide an index card or sheet of paper for each person and have them write their name, phone number, and prayer request. Each person passes it to the right (or left, or across the room—switch it up each week), and the recipient texts their person that week, letting them know they were prayed for. This is a time-saver, a relationship builder, and provides a personal connection for each person within the group.
As we get ready to start a new season of growing together in our small groups, I pray that we will pay attention to how we structure the time that God has given and the women He has placed under our leadership. May we be women who steward our time wisely and cultivate spiritual fruit as we invest in the lives of the women who are in our small groups!
1. Kandi Gallaty, Disciple Her (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2019).
ABOUT SHARI EDWARDS
Shari is a wife of over 30 years to her college sweetheart, mother of 3 sons and a beautiful daughter-in-law. She is also “Sibby” to 2 precious young granddaughters. She resides in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where she is involved in her community and an active member of Park Hill Baptist. She holds a BA in Journalism and Public Relations. Shari currently serves as Adjunct Instructor of Women’s Ministry at Ouachita Baptist University Pruet School of Christian Studies. She has been active in Women’s Ministry leadership for over 20 years and currently serves as Coordinator for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention Inspire Women’s Conference, and in the ABSC Women’s Ministry Leader Network. She served as the Hot Springs 2018 YouLead Coordinator. Shari is currently enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Leavell College and pursuing a Women’s Ministry Certificate. She pursues freelance consulting in women’s ministry leadership, speaking, and writing opportunities and loves to encourage women of all ages to grow in everyday life through a closer walk with God and with each other!