Circles are small groups of 2-12 people. They are the essential units of Christian community. The following are some suggestions about how to form and lead a Circle.
- Read as needed. If you're already experienced starting and leading small groups, you might want to skip this information. Consider reading the information below, if you're new to teaching the Bible in small groups, or just want a refresher.
- Pick your start date. Picking a start date accelerates planning. You can pick a specific date, and exact time, or pick a start week and narrow the exact day and time based on the availability of those who want to attend.
- Meet for five weeks. Five weeks is a good length for a few reasons. It is seen as doable for those who have never attended a weekly Bible study. It is a good length for first time teachers to test their skills. It's enough time for the group to grow close and build momentum for future five-week studies. It provides a natural opt out point for those who can only commit to a five-week time frame.
- Hold to the start and end dates, and meeting times. Honoring your dates and times gives people confidence to continue attending. Use a 90 minute meeting time frame. You can always hang out after the end time to mingle. This gives people an easy exit point if they have other commitments.
- Limit the size. The ideal number is two to twelve people. Any more than 12 people and it becomes difficult for everyone to hear everyone else. It becomes a crowd of separate conversations. Consider using breakout groups of 4-6 people if your group is large.
- Close the study. This seem counter-intuitive but there are a couple of reasons to close a group. The first is to keep it from growing beyond a size that easily accommodates sharing and discussion. This is usually more than twelve people. The second reason is to establish trust, and create a safe place to share. If your group is closed you will need to announce this during the first meeting. Large groups should be closed right away, smaller closed groups can remain open for growth or close for closeness. You and your group decide.
- Decide your location. Be aware of the pros and cons of your meeting location. A public location (lunch room, campus) trades growth for closeness. It is hard to close a public meeting. A private location (home, dorm room) can lessen growth but generate deeper sharing. If you're meeting in person, give attention to the Three Ps: parking, pets, and parenting (childcare). Is there adequate parking for your site? Do pets need to be secured? Is childcare included?
- Don't share the group's personal information without permission. This is especially applicable if your meeting is online. Often the group is eventually eager to share their information with one another. If you're meeting via Zoom, each person can do this through chat.
- Become familiar with the tools. We ask that you use these tools to maintain continuity, preserve simplicity, and promote multiplication throughout the ministry. Additionally, they are simple, biblical, powerful, and proven. They are also free, available on any device, interactive, fun, and highly transferable. Some groups benefit from doing Discovery Study 1 for all five weeks. Some are ready to start with, or transition to Discovery Study 2. Some are best suited for Foundation studies. You and your group decide which tool(s) are the best fit.
- Choose the meeting format. In person meetings are natural and highly relational. Virtual meetings are more normal now than ever before. Learn how to host Zoom meetings if you choose to go virtual. If you meet via Zoom make sure attendees know they don't need to pay for it. They just need to download the app. Also, be ready to help with connections during the first meeting.
- Invite people. Extend invitations in person or online. Invite people you know and those you don't know. The real harvest is among unknown relationships. One effective tool for inviting people you don't know is the Spiritual Conversation.
- Use the ABC meeting format.
Activity time. Be available before and after your start time. For online meetings be available 10 minutes before and 15 minutes after. Double those times for in-person meetings. Use this time to get acquainted, follow up on previous conversations, etc. If you're meeting in person have something for people to drink and nibble on. If you need a conversation starter consider using the app Questions In a Box.
Bible time. Start on time with leader led prayer. Taking prayer requests consumes valuable time and often focuses on issues not germane to the purpose of the meeting. Begin the Bible study using the tool you have selected. Depending on the situation you may need to explain and model it for the group the first few times. Use breakout rooms for larger groups.
Community time. Gather everyone together to ask what they learned, and for focused prayer. Focused prayer is related to what was studied. It is not based on prayer requests. It consists of people being encouraged to lead out in prayer with someone designated to close. Be ready to explain this at the first meeting
- Minimize extraneous prayer time. Begin the meeting with leader led prayer and jump right into the study. Close the meeting time with prayer that is focused on what was learned in the study. Don't feel obligated to take prayer requests. They tend to focus on issues and people the group does not know. Encourage the group to enlist friends for that type of prayer.
- Maximize mingle time. The time before and especially after each meeting can be and incredibly value time of organic fellowship. If you meet online be available 10 minutes before your meeting and for 15 minutes after your meeting. Double this for in person meetings. Also, provide a liquid refreshment and munches for after the in person meeting. Consider using the Questions in a Box app as an icebreaker before the start.
- Know your role. Your job is to guide the discovery process. Be familiar with the format for each tool. You can teach, but don't lecture. Ask follow up questions to promote learning. Help the group stay on target. Be ready to say, "I feel like we've wandered off topic/format. Let's bring it back on topic/format."
- Know how to handle the three types of talkers.
The under talker. Someone who remains silent. Be ready to ask if they have anything to say. Often they just need an invitation. Be sure they maintain the option to remain quiet observers. You will need to be ready to say something like, “Before we move on, I noticed we have not heard from everyone. Sarah is there anything you would like to say?”
The over talker. This is the person who dominates the conversation. They usually respond well to a gentle reminder. You will need to be ready to say something like, “Bob, it’s good to hear your thoughts on the subject, but I’d like to give others a chance to contribute at this time.”
The unhealthy talker. This is someone whose comments indicates they have needs beyond the scope of the group. You will need to be ready to say something like, “Those issues are beyond the scope of this group. Let's talk afterward.” It is essential that you speak with an unhealthy talker during refreshment time. Take someone with you. Inform them of their need to contact the church so they can access resources designed to meet their needs. If things are not resolved, talk to your coach.
- Address two issues during the fifth week debrief. Leave time during Community time the last week for two items: Next Step options and feedback.
Next Step options consist of asking the group what they want to do next. Do they want to opt out? Do they want to resume doing another five-week study? Do they want to use the same or different tools? Do they want to do a Global study? Do they want to join the Virtual Prayer Team?
Also, ask them to give feedback. Ask them to answer two questions, "What did you like best?" and "What is one way we can improve?" You can get this feedback in person, vial email or text.
- Use online resources for your own study. Free online Bible study sites Bible Gateway, BibleHub. Paid online Bible study apps include Olivetree.org. Suggested resources include the following:
- Let us know how we can help. We're here to coach, encourage and equip as needed. Just reach us through the contact button and inform us of your needs.
- Let us know how we can improve. We're always looking for ways to become better. Constructive feedback is welcome....and needed.
- Additional resources.