By Michael C. Mack
QUESTION: Some members of our group want to keep meeting as usual through the summer, while others want to take a break. What do you think?
Before discussing various other possibilities, let’s look first at the pros and cons of meeting over the summer:
A great small group is like family. A family does not stop being a family over the summer. I won’t take the summer off from my wife or kids!
I also won’t take a break from my close friends over the summer months. Healthy small groups are friends who encourage, pray for, and build up one another year-round, not just September through May.
If your group takes a break, what will happen when someone deals with difficulties or times of suffering? We all need friends to be there for us no matter the time of year.
A person’s need for spiritual growth does not end when the weather gets warmer!
Summer may be the best time to reach out to neighbors and friends who do not know Christ.
Kids are out of school, playing sports, going to camps, and much more.
There are lots of other things group members would like to be doing when it’s warm outside and the days are long.
As the leader of the group, perhaps you need a rest.
The question is really about values and philosophy of small group ministry. If you see small groups as a church program, then taking a break is no big deal. But if you see these groups as a vital way we carry out the New Testament values of living in community together—how we are the church, how we make and mature disciples—then the cons sound more like excuses. Or perhaps the cons are not so much excuses, but indicators of more serious issues to work through, such as idolatry or priorities and the need to share leadership.
I believe summer can actually be the best time for small groups! It’s a great time to be outside together, serve together, reach out together, play together, and learn new things together. What’s the key word here? That’s right . . . together!
Here are some ideas:
• Pull out your calendars now to plan when you will and won’t meet over the summer. Look at your regular meeting nights each week and cross out any dates that most of the people in the group will be out of town. Plan to meet the rest of the time.
• Meet on a different night from normal, or maybe Saturday mornings will work better during the summer.
• Commit to one another to be there whenever possible. Make this part of your covenant or small group agreement throughout the summer months.
• Lighten up the Bible study for the summer and use some devotional materials instead.
• Meet on the deck, back porch, at a park, at the community pool, or anywhere outside.
• Plan fun summertime activities together to which you can easily invite neighbors, especially those who don’t know Christ. Here are a few ideas (you can brainstorm some of your own with your group): backyard picnics; games of Pictionary using a white board; go to a baseball game or another sporting activity; go to open-air concerts in the park, or a July fireworks show, or to a beach or lake.
• Try a “dive-in” movie. Check to see if someone in your small group has a pool at their home or access to one in their community. Get a projector and set up a movie screen or a white sheet, and watch a fun, family-friendly movie.
• Do what it says! Study James 1:22-25 and then spend the rest of the summer doing more Bible dos rather than Bible studies.
• Study the “one-another” passages from the New Testament over the summer and do each of them in a creative way. A group I led did this one year. We rotated homes and whoever hosted planned the “one another” study and application. One week we served one another by washing each others’ cars. Another week we encouraged one another by doing a fun affirmation exercise. Another week we spoke to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs by having a creative worship time at a park. Every week we offered hospitality to one another without grumbling!
• Serve together. There are lots of great serving projects you can do, especially outside, over the summer. Hand out cold water or Popsicles at a park. Take stocked bird feeders to a convalescent home. Clean out gutters, mow lawns, or do other yard work for people struggling with physical or financial problems. Look around and be creative!
• Go fishing together . . . or biking, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, skydiving, whatever is outdoors and fun!
Michael Mack is the author of 14 small group books and discussion guides, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? (Standard Publishing) and his latest book, Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish (Touch Publication). E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Our Own Backyards
One summer, our small group didn’t study the Bible. We didn’t pray or worship much together either. Instead, we had picnics, played Pictionary in the backyard, washed cars, played with kids, and threw some parties.
We began planning these summer activities in May. The idea was to invite neighbors to join us in our fun and get to know them better. We also did service projects around the neighborhood—nonthreatening activities, such as holding a free car wash on the cul-de-sac near our house and providing free babysitting for the young couples in our neighborhood so they could have a night out.
In the fall we got back to our usual small group schedule. We used a marriage study, since a number of our neighbors were young couples. We invited all our newfound friends to join us. Later that autumn, after they had a chance to see that the Bible is relevant to real life, we planned a study of the book of John.
By then our group had grown. And we prayed the kingdom would grow too, as these neighbors met Jesus—first through our lives, then through our actions, then through a study of a relevant topic like their marriages, and then through God’s Word.
Come to think of it, our group did pray that summer. We all committed to praying individually for each other and for the people in our neighborhood who didn’t know Jesus. We worshipped too, offering ourselves as living sacrifices to people so that they could see God through us (Romans 12:1).
Other Christians went on short-term missionary trips to places all over the world last summer. Our group took the gospel to people in our own backyard—literally.