01 September 2012

Groups of six to twenty

< Groups of two or three | Index | Groups of sixty to eighty >

Groups of between six and twenty have many of the properties of family, especially when they share a meal together. Groups of this size may be sub-sets of a larger local church, or they may form an independent house church, or they may serve a particular function (such as an Alpha Course).

More than six, fewer than twenty
At sizes much beyond three, the dynamics of a meeting change quite dramatically. Let's take a look at this and examine the strengths and weaknesses of groups in the range between six and twenty people. (The optimum size is probably between eleven and fifteen.)

But before we do that, we're going to consider how groups in this size range are typically managed.

Many churches of more than about thirty people have smaller groups meeting during the week in addition to a main meeting on a Sunday. These groups go under a variety of names - home group, cell group, life group, small group, house group etc. Generally, such groups are encouraged or required to divide if they grow larger than about twenty people. The governance may be formal and tight, or looser and more informal.

Another kind of meeting on this scale is the house church, not usually managed or overseen by a larger organisation, but independent in nature.

Alpha groups often work well at this sort of size. So do prayer meetings, planning sessions, community projects and more.

Regardless of how such groups are managed and whatever they may be called, all of them share features and properties that are simply due to their size.

  1. Groups of this size can fit into a typical living room or garden, they don't need special facilities beyond those offered by any normal home.
  2. It's possible (and generally useful) for the group to eat together before, during and/or after whatever else they may do. Sharing a meal relaxes everyone and encourages a family atmosphere.
  3. This kind of group is small enough that everyone can know one another well, and everyone can play a part. Larger groups will usually contain some people who just sit and listen without playing an active role.
  4. Unlike smaller groups, daily contact is not practicable. So meeting once a week or less often is typical.
  5. Unless there are special reasons to avoid it, groups between six and twenty work well with a mix of men and women, young and old - just like a family.
  6. Although relaxed and friendly, groups like this will never be as intimate as groups of just two or three,
  7. With numbers like this it's possible to sing and even dance. There is scope for Bible discussion, prayer for individuals and for the local area, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, and teaching.
  8. In a mixed group of this size there will usually be a good range of experience, ability and personality. As a result members of the group can often guide and encourage one another.

There is great value in groups of this size. Fewer than six people may be insufficient for all of the dynamics listed above to come into play, and more than twenty is too many for everyone to play an active role. If you are involved in a church of thirty or more people, suggest to them that it would be useful to have smaller groups meeting during the week.

Brian Swan's post, 'The 'F' word', is a graphic tale of how things sometimes (often?) turn out in larger groups. Being small is no guarantee of being able to communicate well, but certainly it can help.

  • If you are currently part of a group of this size, can you tell us about it in a comment? What is good? What is not so good?
  • If you are not part of such a group, are there ways you might find or create one?
  • In what other ways might a group of this size prove useful?
  • Jesus had twelve close followers, why did he choose a group of this size?

See also:

< Groups of two or three | Index | Groups of sixty to eighty >


  1. Hi Chris,
    The discipleship group I am part of has a house gathering. At any given meeting could be 10-20 people. The pros: always a small group, always have personal time for conversation, always have a meal together, intimate time to sing a song or two with just an acoustic guitar, not a sermon but a time from the Word (typically about Jesus or about discipling), anyone who wants to participate in conversation during the teaching time can share or ask questions, plus more. The cons: too many to have really private conversations, no serious accountability, can't typically have a moderate conversation with everyone each time, & toddlers and younger are sent to another room so as to not disturb the gathering.

    I find that I look forward to going because each person is valuable as part of the body of Christ. Additionally, I meet with a friend (not part of this house gathering) for accountability and serious conversation regularly for balance. Both of these provide a wonderful launchpad for me to stay in step with Jesus in my community.

  2. It's interesting to hear your list of difficulties with the larger group, Beth. But it's clearly still useful and it sounds as if the one on one sessions with your friend fill those gaps for you. Do you think it would be helpful if ALL the people from the larger group were meeting in twos and threes?

    Perhaps we all benefit from opportunities to meet in groups of various sizes. I know I do! Maybe we shouldn't expect too much from any one particular scale of interaction.

    Thanks for stopping by to comment,


  3. Yes, the house gathering does encourage and recommend that all participate in a smaller 2-3 person group for more in-depth accountability and private accountability, Chris. If fact, they encourage it with someone outside the group even with a new follower of Jesus if you can.

    I have found that taking the pressure off any one group providing "everything" leads to more satisfaction and richer diversity in belonging to multiple types of groups.

    For me though, it's all about the group(s) providing a springboard to daily missions in my community.




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