Showing posts with label group. Show all posts
Showing posts with label group. Show all posts

01 November 2012

Dunbar and 130 to 160

< Groups of sixty to eighty | Index | No later items >

The Dunbar Number represents the size limit for meaningful social interaction with others. We need to be careful that we don't have so many church friends that we have no remaining capacity for close social connections with neighbours and others.

Prof Robin DunbarThere is a value called the 'Dunbar Number' which is about 150. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and pschologist, proposed that this was a natural limit to human group size. He wrote that it is ...
... a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships, that this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.

In other words, groups much larger then 150 are too large for the members to know one another in a continuous and meaningful way. We simply cannot interact regularly with more people than this. We may know about other people and we may meet other people but we can't really get to know them adequately in a social sense. Knowing someone personally involves spending time with them more or less regularly and 150 is the approximate limit of our ability to do this.

In church life - So in a church context, although we might meet in larger numbers than this, we can expect to only properly know a subset of the people present. And if we regularly socialise with 150 church friends, we will not have much capacity remaining to socialise with neighbours, work colleagues, or the other people we meet day by day. And that is a problem.

Why is it a problem? Simply because we are supposed to be making disciples! We can only make disciples by spending time with the people around us in a social context. To do so our existing regular social group needs to be smaller than the Dunbar number of 150. If we maximise the number of friends we have in the church, we are automatically minimising the number we can maintain in the world. And we do not go into the church to make disciples, but into the world.

Practical suggestions - My advice is to expect church to involve smaller numbers, two or three, six to twenty, and for special purposes sixty to eighty. Meanwhile, focus some effort on having good social involvement with as many non-church people as possible. These will include your wider family, your neighbours and those you share an interest with or work alongside. These are the pools in which you may discover future disciples.

Recognise that good fellowship is possible with the twos and threes and with the sixes to twenties. Do you really need more than that? Weigh up the benefits and the costs of larger church groups than these. What will be gained and what will be lost if your entire capacity to socialise is spent within the church community?

  • If you meet regularly with others in a group this size, how many would you say are your friends?
  • How do you relate to the others, those who are not close friends?
  • Are there arrangements to meet in smaller groups at other times? Does this help?

See also:

< Groups of sixty to eighty | Index | No later items >

15 October 2012

Groups of sixty to eighty

< Groups of six to twenty | Index | Dunbar and 130-160 >

Groups of around seventy are good for workshops, perhaps with an invited speaker or a small team. It's an excellent number for training and for networking, but much too large for deeper, family-like relationship.

A group of around seventy
Numbers larger than twenty lose the sense of family. Although it's possible to know everyone in a group this size, it's not possible to be intimate with so many.

This is too large a number for a circle, most likely there will be rows of seating and an area at the front for speakers.

But there are ways in which such groups are rather useful. It's a good size for training purposes with one person or a small team presenting material and opportunities to ask questions. A group this size can also divide up to discuss aspects of what has been presented or to develop answers to questions.

It's unlikely that groups this size will meet regularly; they are more likely to be called or invited to meet for a specific purpose and then disband. Think in terms of workshops with a well-regarded invited speaker. These may be one-off occasions, or they may be annual events, but they are certainly not weekly and the expectation is that the people composing the group will be different every time. Because of this, such meetings are often good opportunities to meet new people, some of whom may become long term contacts or even close friends. This networking aspect is a valuable feature of groups this size and above.

The main exception to this will be a small, conventional church where the size is not a deliberate choice. Many, if not most, conventional churches are keen to increase the size of their meetings by drawing in additional members. Growth in numbers is often regarded as evidence of success. A size of sixty to eighty is rarely intentional, it's seen merely a point to pass through on the way to greater things.

Even in the time of Moses, seventy was a number for a particular purpose (Numbers 11:16). The elders would no doubt have taken back what they heard to share more widely with the entire community. But it's only fair to add that seventy was also a symbolic number in ancient Israel.

Jesus selected a group of seventy-two followers for a specific task (Luke 10:1-2). He sent them out in pairs and on their return they may well have talked together about their experiences. However, this was not a group called to meet, but a group called to go out.

In the early church, groups of sixty to eighty may have met from time to time, either on a city-wide basis or when delegates met regionally to share information and pray together.

Expect to be part of a group of this size from time to time, usually with a defined and specific function. But don't expect to settle in a group of sixty to eighty regularly, it's more effective to meet in groups of twenty or fewer where there's scope for family-like intimacy and close friendship.

  • Have you been involved in meetings of this size?
  • How many of the other people do you know well?
  • Was the meeting led from the front? Were there break-out sessions? If so, did these seem more personal than the main meeting?
  • If you meet regularly in a group this size is there an intention to grow larger? Why?

< Groups of six to twenty | Index | Dunbar and 130-160 >

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 >

10 May 2012

Groups of two or three

< Church is a network | Index | Groups of six to twenty >

Groups of just two or three have benefits and limitations. They are the smallest possible forms of church life and may develop spontaneously. They are powerful in communicating.

Groups of two or threeLast time we saw that there's only one church and it consists of a web of rich, multiple connections. At the smaller, local scale we are typically involved mostly with a particular group of some size.

If you are part of a larger church group I strongly recommend you also consider meeting regularly on a much smaller scale with no more than one or two others. If this is new to you, you'll find the dynamics and depth of sharing completely different.

The new partner (or partners) don't need to come from your larger circle such as a cell group or local congregation. In many ways it's better if they don't. If you are a Baptist why not meet with an Anglican and someone from a home church? All of you will broaden your horizons. Information will begin to flow through you between those larger groups which might otherwise have little or no interaction. These are significant benefits.

Another advantage of such small groups is that it's possible to meet daily. If you choose to try this you might like to keep the meetings very brief. Church of Two (CO2) is one suitable pattern for groups of two or three and requires about five minutes per person.

There's really only one important requirement, and it's this - the people in your group of two or three must be friends. Either you will start meeting with an existing friend or two, or you will need to become good friends.

What happens if a fourth person wants to join, or a fifth or sixth? The level of intimacy is eroded and the dynamics of the group will change. But there's a very simple way to avoid this. Instead of creating a group of four, one of the original three can help the newcomer by forming another group of two. When a third member is added, the helper returns to their original group. Alternatively the helper might become temporarily or permanently part of both groups.

Groups of two or three often form naturally. Let me tell you a story from my own life.

Ten or eleven years ago I began meeting at home with my sister and one or two other friends. Sometimes there would be just two of us, other times as many as six or seven. Gradually, as others joined us, we began to meet as two separate groups in different towns as this reduced our travelling needs.

Later, I was temporarily part of a small evangelical fellowship that was considering its future. In the end the decision was made to close down. As a result of meeting with them I became friendly with  Jim. Jim invited me to his home where he was regularly meeting with Sean one evening each week, we would chat about life, read and discuss the Bible, and pray together. We still meet like this, we are church expressed as a group of three men. A while later, Jim joined River Church in the town, but the three of us continued meeting as before.

I have also been meeting with Paul and Roger once a week during the daytime. at first for CO2, these days more for Bible study.  And I meet regularly with Sean, just the two of us. We have focussed at different times on hearing the Lord, outreach, and much more.

A couple of years ago I began going along to my wife's small group, part of Open Door. I'm not a member of Open Door but I'm very involved with the small group, it currently has around a dozen people each week.

Because I am part of all these groups I have connections through them to Open Door, River Church and more. I enjoy meeting in all these ways but the deepest and most intimate times are usually with the very small groups - just two or three.

Here are some questions
  1. How well connected are you within your church?
  2. How well connected are you with people in other churches?
  3. What differences do you see between connecting individuals and connecting churches?
Please leave a comment below.

< Church is a network | Index | Groups of six to twenty >


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