Eric Geiger - a Husband, Father, Author, Vice-President of LifeWay Church Resources


The Purpose of Small Groups

Why do small groups matter? What is their purpose? Spence Shelton, the Small Groups Pastor at The Summit Church, goes to Acts 2 to explore what makes an awesome small group and what impact they can have. He shares a number of things small groups must focus on and a number of results that will occur if groups do them. The net result is powerful. Also, check out Spence’s new book, The People of God, which lays out a theology and practice of biblical community.

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Effective Small Groups for Women

Julie Woodruff, Women’s Minister at Longhollow Baptist Church in Nashville, TN shares some thoughts on best practices when it comes to women’s small groups.

Small groups provide community. Julie shares a great quote she heard recently, “If you are aiming at community, you’ll miss it every time. But, if you have a mission, community will happen.” Church communities are different than any other communities.

Here are Julie’s thoughts on small groups:

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Trade-Offs on Where Your Groups Meet

Michael Porter has famously said that strategy is about making choices, about making trade-off decisions. As an example, IKEA is known for making the trade-off decision of offering great prices over offering great service. It is not that they de-value service, but they have chosen to value “low cost” more. This strategic choice impacts organizational behavior, as any good strategy does. In their physical stores, they have chosen a self-service model over a highly staffed model with sales associates interacting with customers on every aisle. They understood the “trade-offs” and made a strategic choice that has deep implications for the company.

Church leaders make strategic choices too. And often we need to do a better job understanding the implications of our choices.

One of the trade-off decisions is where a church’s small groups will meet. Will the groups primarily be off-campus or will they be on-campus?

Yesterday I blogged about the practical benefits of on-campus groups, and today I will offer four practical benefits of off-campus groups. I want to re-state that I am not passionate about one approach being better than the other. I am, however, passionate for biblical community and for leaders thinking wisely about the ministries they steward.

Four practical benefits of “off-campus” groups

1. A less expensive structure: One of the primary reasons more and more groups will meet off-campus is that less and less churches will spend significant resources building large “educational wings” for adult groups. These churches will strategically choose to take advantage of square footage that is already being heated/cooled and already being paid for on a home mortgage.

2. More volunteers for kids and students: Some churches continue to struggle with enough volunteers to invest properly in the kids and students each week. Churches that utilize off-campus groups free up a good number of leaders for the kids and student ministries.

3. Easier entry for someone who doesn’t go to church: While on-campus groups provide an easier step for someone who attends worship services, off-campus groups provide an easier step for someone who doesn’t attend church. Each summer Kaye leads a women’s group in our neighborhood, and each summer we are so encouraged by folks who come who don’t go to church anywhere but are interested in attending a Bible study.

4. More relational time: Groups that meet off-campus do provide more time for interaction and conversation. And because it is more difficult for a new person to just show up at a house, the groups are more likely to lean toward “closed” even if they are not officially “closed.” This means it is easier for the discussions to go to a deeper place because the make-up of the group is not constantly changing.

While a wise leader wants to maximize the strengths of the strategy that has been chosen, Thursday I will offer some thoughts on minimizing the downside to your groups approach.

For resources on groups, whether they meet on-campus or off-campus, check out


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The Trade-Off Discussion: On-Campus and Off-Campus Groups

Michael Porter is a well-known expert on strategy. Porter has articulated “strategy is about making choices, trade-offs.” An effective strategist thus understands the landscape and deliberately chooses a path with awareness and understanding of the trade-offs. A leadership team that is strategic is able to say, “Here are the potential benefits and the potential pitfalls of this direction, and with those in mind, we have made the strategic choice to move in this direction.”

Church leaders frequently ask me about the directional choice between “off-campus” small groups and “on campus” groups, often called Sunday School.

I have never really involved myself in the discussion that pins one against the other. Not because it is a fruitless discussion but because I believe both are an approach to helping people enjoy and benefit from Christian community. In other words, I am much more passionate about community that is rooted in Jesus than I am about the nomenclature used to describe a church’s strategy for helping people live in Christian community. Through His death, Jesus created a new community of Christians, and He matures us in community. I am for churches being passionate about that—whatever nomenclature a church uses.

So when I have used “groups” in books or articles, I have used it as the overarching term, the generic term for the strategy churches use.

Some churches challenge their people to be in a group (or whatever language they use), and they offer groups that meet on the church campus and groups that meet in homes during the week. Others, because of space limitations or other reasons, are put in a position where they are confronted with a trade-off choice between focusing primarily on “on-campus” groups or primarily on “off-campus” groups.

While I want to emphasize that theologically and philosophically I see little distinction, practically there are some trade-off implications to the decision. When making directional decisions, wise leaders understand the trade-offs before those decisions are made, and then they work to minimize the inherent downside of the direction they chose.

Four practical benefits of “on-campus” groups

1. Greater and easier assimilation: It is much easier to move people to a group that meets on the church campus because the people are used to coming to the church campus, and they may already be there when the group meets. If you are one of those church leaders who bash “traditional approaches,” drink these data points in for a moment and rethink your position that everyone else but you and your crew just doesn’t get it:

  • Churches that focus exclusively on groups that meet on the church campus every week typically have 80+ percent of their adult attendance in a group each week.
  • On average, churches that meet in homes or other locations, and not as frequently, typically have 30-40 percent of their adults enrolled in a group (emphasis on enrolled, not attendance). Notice I wrote “on average.” There are some churches who utilize off-campus groups that experience high percentages of their people in groups because they have so effectively infused group life into their culture.

2. Easier coaching: On-campus groups enable a “groups coach” or staff member to more easily check in on groups and group leaders as many of the groups are meeting at the same time and at the same place.

3. Built-in programming for the kids: One of the biggest challenges of groups that meet in homes is what to do with the kids.

4. A clear start/stop time: You can accuse the host of being un-relational, but not every small group host loves having 3.5 hour group meetings followed by further conversations with a few laggards who don’t pick up on the social cues that the dishes have been washed and the husband has put on his pajamas.

So if you are a church leader who has space available on Sunday mornings for your people to meet (and the parking spots to go with it), you should consider using it. I would use every nook possible to get people into biblical community.

Tomorrow I will give practical benefits of groups that don’t meet on the church campus. Again, my goal is not to advocate one over the other—I don’t—but to help leaders understand there are some practical trade-off decisions that are being made. And if a church leadership team can recognize the embedded trade-offs, they can work to minimize the downsides of their approach.

For resources on groups, whether they meet on-campus or off-campus, check out



How People Grow…in Groups

In Transformational Discipleship, we unpacked the important relationship between truth, posture, and leaders. God brings about transformation as godly leaders apply the truth to our hearts while we are in a teachable posture.


The Lord transforms us, sanctifies us, through His truth—and His Word is truth (John 17:17). The truth of the gospel and the truth of God’s Word has the power to change us and mold us into the image of His Son.


God puts us in a teachable and moldable posture to receive His truth. For example, He will use trials, spiritual disciplines, and biblical community to soften our hearts toward His truth. If you are a preacher or teacher, you have surely observed the importance of a teachable posture as you have preached or taught the same message to a group of people, and some have been impacted while some have been hardened. The message and the messenger are the same, but the posture of each person is different.


God uses leaders to apply grace to our hearts. Each person in the body is given the opportunity to administer grace, in a variety of forms (1 Peter 4:10). Because of this truth, pastors and teachers are wise to equip all of God’s people for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) so that more people can encounter His grace through more leaders.

As a follow-up to Transformational Discipleship, Ed Stetzer and I wrote Transformational Groups based on a large research study on small groups and how people grow in biblical community. After analyzing the research, we can confidently say “your groups matter a lot.” From a research lens, people in small groups pray and confess their sins more regularly, share the gospel more confidently, give more generously, and serve more sacrificially than those not in a small group.

We see a deep connection between groups and discipleship. Based on the learning in both research projects and based on our understanding of discipleship and how critical groups are to the health of a church, we believe in these three imperatives for church leaders (notice the connection between these imperatives and the importance of truth, posture, and leaders):

1)    Develop your leaders (leaders)

Leaders will reproduce who they are. The faith is often more caught than taught, so the leaders a church puts in their group environments will greatly determine the health of the groups. Leaders must be encouraged and developed. They must be trained and equipped.

2)    Launch new groups (posture)

Biblical community is essential for spiritual growth as it puts people in a posture to receive encouragement and to walk together with others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.

If a church is not launching new groups, the church is not giving new people and unconnected people a clear opportunity to live in Christian community. Launch new groups so that more people can experience the beauty and joy of a connected and interdependent posture.

3)    Feed your people (truth)

Connecting people together is not sufficient for transformation. They must be connected together in truth. God desires His people to be both unified and sanctified, and community that is formed on the foundation of God’s Word accomplishes both. Don’t just launch groups—launch groups that are built on a wise plan for discipleship. Don’t just promote community—ensure your community is grounded in Scripture.