What We’ve Learned After One Semester in our New Community Group Structure

February 10, 2015 — Leave a comment

Several people have asked how our transition to a new Community Group structure went, now that we have one semester under our belts (I shared about it here).

The short of it: the jury is still out, but overall we like it. We’re going to make some minor tweaks and give it another shot next fall.

Overall, our Community Group numbers are pretty down this year. But we knew that coming into the new system. We had a significantly fewer number of groups, so we knew we’d be reaching less students this year (with 4 leaders per group instead of 2). The hope was to have fewer, bigger (and healthier) groups. And over a few years to grow to more groups/leaders.

We had a 15% drop in total number of students involved in small group Bible studies. And a 30% drop in number of freshmen involved. That tells me that in this new system we are doing a better job at retaining upperclassmen, but worse at reaching freshmen.

Some relevant facts on the studies:

Seniors / group 1.3
Juniors / group 2.5
Sophomores / group 2.9
Freshmen / group 4.3
Avg Group Size 11.0
Avg Male Group Size 9.8
Avg Female Group Size 12.5
# Groups over 10 People 17
# Groups under 10 People 9
Largest Group 23
Smallest Group 4

What we’ve learned (the good and the bad) in the new intergenerational structure:

  • In the first six weeks, when the upperclassmen and freshmen studies met separately, many of the upperclassmen studies languished. Many of the leaders got discouraged because they didn’t have anyone coming. Next fall, I think we will just start the year as an intergenerational study. We’ll meet in the dorms and call it “The Quads Bible Study” (or whatever dorm it is) but it will be open to Freshmen-Senior. The theory (from Florida Cru) was that freshmen would be hesitant/intimidated to come to a study with upperclassmen in it, but we don’t honestly think that is a roadblock for many freshmen.
    • Good insight on this issue from one of our staff, Samantha Barnes: “The groups that meet in the dorms have a good presence of freshmen, and the groups that meet off campus have a good present of upperclassmen, but it’s hard to get the other age range of student in the other location. If groups start out in the dorms, I think we would worry that upperclassmen would not be as willing to come back to campus.”
  • Our Freshmen Pursuers have had a little bit of a hard time finding their place in leadership. After the first six weeks they aren’t in charge of a group/content anymore (though they’re still supposed to be pursuing freshmen all year). So I think they’ve felt a little out of place and not like real leaders.
  • Having 4-5 leaders of each group has translated into passivity among some of the groups (especially among the guys). It’s textbook Diffusion of responsibility – “a phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present.” We’re still trying to work this one out this spring by (again) clearly communicating everyone’s roles:
    • Coach – How are you doing at helping the CG Leaders and Freshmen Pursuer lead effectively?
    • Community Group Leader – If the freshmen pursuers step into your role next year, how well do you feel like you have prepared them to transition? What can you focus on this semester to help equip them as leaders? What would it look like for you to pursue upperclassmen this semester?
    • Freshmen Pursuer – How well do you feel like you pursued freshmen after the group merged last semester? What would it look like for you to pursue freshmen this semester? How confident do you feel in stepping up in leadership within the group, especially next year? What ways would you like to grow and be equipped to prepare you for that?
  • We’ll see how the groups do in transitioning leadership. The hope would be that all Freshmen Pursuers will be Community Group leaders next fall (and hopefully be really good at it since they’ve seen it modeled). All Community Group Leaders would graduate to being Coaches. And we’ll challenge freshmen to step up and lead as Freshmen Pursuers next fall.
  • Some honest feedback from our students:
    • Five leaders is wayyyy too many! (Three seems to be a good number: two girls take turns leading content, one is not leading content but can help facilitate discussion)
    • “Leader” does not have to equal leading content
    • Help cast vision for more leaders to pursue people and see that as their main role as a leader in the group – i.e. if a new girl shows up to the group, the CG Leader doesn’t have to worry about finding someone to meet with the girl during the next week because specific girls always do that
    • More clearly defined roles may help with the feeling that there are too many leaders:
      • The person(s) leading content shouldn’t stop pursuing people, but there should also be people who see that as their primary role and that it is a valid role for a leader
      • Older students should help younger students pursue freshmen since they have done it before – don’t put it all on the sophomores and think it has nothing to do with you
      • Upperclassmen naturally pour into freshmen even if they aren’t a “leader” because when they were a freshman, another upperclassman took them under his/her wing and they want to do the same for someone else
      • Idea of leaders being a “shepherd” for their group — it’s not just a once a week commitment. How are you shepherding that person’s spiritual growth while they are in your group?
      • It should be the norm for CG leaders to meet with one person from their group each week (this doesn’t seem to be happening)
    • On Multiplying groups:
      • communicate multiply, not split
      • leaders divvy up students instead of letting them pick
      • leaders need to see the groups as two independent groups, even if the two groups do fun socials together each month
      • divvy up students without them present, then leaders send students a text: “Hi Katie! This is Taylor and I am so excited that you will be in my discussion group now! How can I be praying for you this week?”
    • Some Coaches aren’t attending their group – maybe we need to make sure they know what they are signing up for and that the group has fewer leaders without them

Hopefully as we process our growing pains aloud (here, online!) it is helpful for other college ministries.

What are your thoughts? Have you tried something similar to this? Any questions/advice?



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