by Joel Comiskey
Published Small Group Network
In 1992 I wrote a manual that guided the specifics of our small group ministry, including our programmed vacations. This is what I wrote in 1992:
We observe several ‘breaks’ during the year:
- One month break from the 1st week of December to the 1st week of January
- Two week break during the Easter season
- Two month break during the summer time
I figured this strategy would ease the leadership load and encourage the leaders not to give up. However, I noticed two problems.
Some groups wanted to meet throughout the year. Like a close-knit family, they enjoyed being with each other. They felt it was unnatural for me to set a decree concerning when they should start and stop their group meetings.
It was hard to get the groups back together after the scheduled break (especially the two-month break). Since I programmed the break into the schedule, it was covertly assumed that I was responsible to bring the groups back together.
Gleanings from Small Group Based Churches
Between 1995-1997, I had the opportunity to visit and study small group based churches around the world. I discovered that these churches didn’t advocate programmatic breaks (vacations) for the small groups during the year.
These churches asked their small groups to meet throughout the year (while allowing for individual groups to decide not to meet on specific holidays, etc.)
I noticed that these churches prioritized the small group on the same level as the Sunday celebration. Since the weekly worship service met throughout the year, the small group ministry must do the same. These churches were concerned about the spiritual growth of the members and felt it would be irresponsible pastoral care to close down cell ministry for an entire summer, for example.
If small groups are another program in the church (howbeit an important one) there is no problem closing and opening them as another cycle in the church, just like the Awana program, Sunday School class, or Evangelism Explosion.
But in small group based churches, cell and celebration are equally important and are necessary for continual growth, edification, and evangelism.
Don’t Make an Official Decree
I now advise church leaders not to make an official church decree that all groups will close during such and such a holiday, season, etc. Small groups should be the life of the church, not subject to programmatic cycles of church calendars or work schedules.
But will small groups meet all fifty-two weeks of the year. I don’t believe so. My point is this: let the individual group decide. Upper level leadership should not decide for them.
If the church has officially decreed that small groups will not meet during the summer, what happens to the person who receives Jesus during the summer? Will she have to wait until September to join a small group? Our church doesn’t close small group ministry during the summer, although we have fewer groups meetings for a variety of reasons.
Let it be a natural thing
I believe there will be natural times in which the small groups will not meet. For example, if 75% of the group will be gone the last two weeks of August, the group will probably decide not to meet during those weeks. The group will inform the supervisor of their decision.
However, perhaps three of the six families will be home in August and would like to continue to meet (Remember that when the official leader is absent, it’s an excellent time for others to exercise leadership).
My own Group
Let me speak from experience. In my own small group, we have a yearly Christmas party in mid-December. We don’t meet again until the beginning of January. We do the same thing during the Easter week. There are other times during the year when we don’t meet for a variety of natural reasons. However, our small group church doesn’t make an official announcement: “All small groups will close during these holidays or these summer months.” Does a small group need a vacation? If you mean an official vacation that’s programmed into the church calendar, I would say, NO. But if we’re talking about the group deciding not to meet on certain occasions, GO FOR IT.