If you use a large group/small group model on the weekend, you’ll face a dilemma.

How do I group these kids?

You may be able to divide all your kids into X number of groups, but next Sunday it is like a completely different set of kids showed up. 30-40% of the kids might be the same, but the rest weren’t there the week before. The following week – surprise! Even more kids show up who haven’t been there since you set up groups. Seriously, how do you really do this?

There are two main ways you can do this. On Deck Groups and Integrated Groups. In this post and the next, I’m going to unpack both of these models and show the pros and cons of each.

On Deck Group Model

The On Deck Group Model allows you to limit groups to a specific set of kids. When you form groups, the only kids who will join that group are kids originally assigned to this group. Let’s play this out. Say 10 kids are assigned to this group. Since church attendance is more sporadic, there will probably only be 5-6 kids there each weekend. It’s possible that on some rare occasions there might be 8 – 9 and on some occasions, there might only be 2-3. The benefit is that this group will get very close relationally. It won’t take long for them to get to know each other very well. In many ways, I’d say that this kind of group is ideal (although I won’t say it’s necessarily best).

So what about all the other kids. The kids who come once a month or less often than that. This is where the On Deck Groups come in. If you’re not assigned to a group, then you attend an On Deck Group. It’s just like a regular small group, but no one in the group is consistent – at least not yet. A kid visiting on his first week would be in an On Deck Group. Or a kid who visits 2-3 times a year would be in an On Deck Group. They’ll get a small group experience, but each time they visit, the group will look different. Once a kid attends a set number of times in a set period of time, they’ll be assigned to a regular small group.

Depending on the size of the church, On Deck Groups may look different. A large church might have On Deck Groups for every grade/gender. They may have 2-3 small groups and one On Deck Group. Churches that are smaller may have On Deck Groups that span multiple grades. You have to do it in a way that works for your size and space.

It’s a pretty intriguing model. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this model.

Pros of The On Deck Group Model

  • Permanent groups have very tight bonds, relationships are very strong
  • Permanent groups are very rewarding to lead, leaders are very invested
  • It’s very easy to identify who regular kids are apart from new kids or infrequently attending kids
  • You could utilize “legacy” every other week volunteers to lead On Deck Groups

Cons of The On Deck Group Model

  • Distribution of volunteers may feel unbalanced. You’ll see several groups with 4-5 kids and a handful of On Deck Groups with 12+ kids
  • On Deck Groups are hard to lead. Leaders never build relationships, so it can feel like hard work with little to no reward
  • A visiting kid doesn’t really get a taste of a relational small group. They’ll have to visit X number of times before they’re added to a group where someone will remember them

On Deck Groups may be a great solution for your ministry. I’ve watched some leaders actually modify this model where they’ll assign 20 kids to a permanent group. Maybe 2-3 times a year, they’ll have 16-17 kids there, but most groups will average 9-10 each week. Even though the roster is a lot bigger, this larger group of kids will know each other pretty well. When doing an event or activity outside of the church, it can really feel like you have a small tribe.