1. Welcome (People to People) – 15 mins.
Most small group members are tired when they arrive at the group. They’ve worked hard all day and probably don’t feel like being spiritual. Some will attend because they know they should be there, not because they feel like attending. Begin on a joyful note. Let the group members ease into group life.
The welcome time normally begins with a dynamic question that breaks the ice. The best icebreakers guarantee a response. You can buy entire books on lively icebreakers, so you shouldn’t experience a shortage in this area.
2. Worship (People to God) – 15 mins.
The goal of the worship time is to enter the presence of the living God and to give Him control of the meeting. The worship time helps the group go beyond socializing. Without Christ’s presence, the small group is no different than a work party, a family gathering, or meeting friends at a football game.
The worship leader or others in the group should pick five to six songs or a worship activity before the worship starts. I think it’s best to concentrate on God during the entire worship time, rather than stopping and starting to pick the song or activity. If singing, try to mingle praise and prayer between songs.
Entering God’s presence through worship activities is an important part of the worship time. If singing, make sure that everyone has a song sheet. Why?
- First-time visitors will feel uncomfortable without seeing the words.
- Some new Christians or church members don’t know the worship choruses of your church.
- You’ll have more liberty to sing new songs.
3. Word (God to People) – 30 mins.
The Word time is when God speaks to our hearts through the Bible. Resources abound to prepare a top-notch lesson.
Many small groups follow the same theme and Scripture as the Sunday message. Even if this is the case, it’s best NOT to discuss the sermon. The people should interact with God’s Word, not with the sermon. If the sermon itself is the reference point, visitors and those who missed the service will feel isolated.
Even if the church provides the lesson, it’s essential that each small-group leader examines the lesson and applies it according to the needs in the group.
Without fail, God speaks to the group through his Word and people recognize their needs. I find it very effective to ask for specific prayer requests after the lesson time. Often we’ll lay hands on those with special needs. The lesson, or Word time, normally lasts 40 minutes. I like to take 10 of those 40 minutes to pray for specific needs of the group.
4. Works (People to People) – 30 mins.
The last part of the small group, the works time, helps the group focus on others. There is no “one way” to do this. The main thought that should guide this time is outreach. The type of outreach might vary on a weekly basis:
- Praying for non-Christians
- Preparing a social project
- Planning for a future multiplication of the group
- Deciding on the next outreach event for the small group (for example, dinner, video, picnic, etc.)
- Praying for non-Christian families
The leader might say to the group, “Remember to pray for our new group multiplication that will begin in two months. Pray for Frank, who needs to complete the last small-group leader-training course. Pray that he’ll be ready to start the new small group.”
During this time, you might promote and plan a social outreach project. I’m convinced that small groups are perfectly positioned to meet the physical needs of both those inside and outside the small group. A small group offers a unique, effective way to reach deeply into the heart of a non-Christian person. The New Testament church was born, grew, and prospered through need-oriented group evangelism. God is calling his church back once again to this exciting method of outreach.
Were the People Edified?
Edification literally means to build up or construct. Paul said to the Corinthian church, “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening [edifying] of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
The issue of building-up should be the guiding principle of the small group. A successful small-group meeting is one in which everyone is built up and encouraged in the faith. The standard for success is whether or not Christ’s body went away edified—not whether you fulfilled the 4W’s.
The focus of the small group must be Jesus. Some want to convert the group into a Bible study, others an evangelistic crusade, and still others a worship concert. Lift Jesus high in your group, and he’ll give you a gentle balance of study, worship, evangelism, and fellowship. Perhaps one week you’ll spend more time in the Word, while another week, you’ll tarry in the worship time.
Remember the 4W’s are not four laws. They’re guidelines to help you focus on Jesus and to maximize participation. Focusing on Jesus helps provide the proper balance.