FAQ: Why do you operate on a semester system?
Our small groups operate on a semester system. We do that for several reasons.
- There is a natural rhythm in our church, and we have decided to work with that instead of working against it. Since so many people in our congregation work on the Hill or are college students, there are natural “break points” in the year for us. May, August, and the Christmas holidays are always slow times. So following a semester system is natural for our culture.
- People are more willing to jump in and try a group if there is an obvious and easy entry point and exit point. People don’t like visiting a group once and then feeling trapped there in perpetuity. The commitment only lasts 8-12 weeks.
- The semester system allow people to join groups that can minister to them effectively at the point of their deepest need or area of potential growth when timing is critical. For instance, a young woman may need to be in a support group for sexual brokenness one semester, and then jump into a women's group for growth the next semester, and then join an outreach/service group the next semester. It can keep us balanced.
- More people are interested in being a leader because they know it’s a finite commitment. Many people are willing to experiment with leading a group because they know it’s only an 8- 12 week commitment. It's a short but solid commitment.
- Our leaders have opportunities to take breaks and catch their breath. When we see a leader showing the first signs of burnout, we can encourage them to take a semester off. They don’t feel like they are “quitting” or walking away for good. They are just taking a short “sabbatical.” Before semesters, leaders kept leading until they burned out, quit, and never came back into leadership again. Now, they take short breaks when they need them and then come right back into leadership.
- Momentum. The semesters give us 3 strategic opportunities each year to promote our groups. Before we had semesters, there was no natural rhythm for highlighting group life and it was difficult to spread the word about new groups that were forming. Now, we can rally the whole church around small groups 3 times a year.
There's definitely a drawback. And there's certainly the risk that an individual could float from group to group every semester and never land in true community or grow in a meaningful way. And that is something I try to track. But the benefits of the semester system seem to outweigh the risks for us right now. I would never go back.