Small Groups: On-Campus or Off-Campus?

I’m struck by the number of young leaders I know who’ve planted churches in facilities without capacity for small groups, but they now would like the option of groups meeting on a campus. Based on those conversations and discussions with church leaders whose groups do meet on campus, here are pro’s for each option:

Small Groups Meeting on Campus

  1. If structured accordingly, they provide clear options for child care and training. That is, the church can offer training for kids at the same time that adult groups meet.
  2. Fellowship can be stronger when groups are meeting on campus. That’s because the entire body gathers at the same time. Even though they’re going to separate groups, they still see more members.
  3. Creating a “team” of leaders can be easier when groups meet on campus. Oversight and accountability can be easier when staff can encourage and support small group leaders who gather at the same time.
  4. If the groups meet around worship, they can increase worship attendance. Group members can move together directly into the worship service.
  5. Some unchurched folks with a church background are more comfortable coming to a church building than to the home of someone they do not know. That might change quickly when they get involved, but their first steps are often toward what they know.
  6. Some guests will just “show up” because they’re seeking to get involved in a church. That may not happen often, but it does happen. Some hurting people make their way toward others who will help them.

Small Groups Meeting off Campus

  1. Some unchurched people are not likely to come to a church building first. They may come to a home, however, if someone they know invites them to come.
  2. This approach requires believers to reach out. As noted above, a few people may “show up” at church. That’s not likely to happen, though, with small groups off campus. Almost always, somebody must do the inviting – and that’s a good thing for the sake of the spread of the gospel.
  3. Relationships may develop better in a less formal setting. Conversations and life-on-life interactions often seem to be more natural in an off-campus location.
  4. The group isn’t as governed by the clock. On-campus groups that meet according to a set schedule are often limited by time constraints; off-campus groups don’t always have that expectation.
  5. These groups can influence various parts of the city. Homes and other locations thus become “mission stations” as group members reach out to their neighbors and co-workers. The church building is no longer the only site of Great Commission activity.
  6. Off-campus groups don’t require costly space. Nobody has to build and pay for an educational building – thus leaving more funds for the mission.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Help us carry on this discussion.   


  • I think these are all really good awareness pieces for both environments. My experience is that churches usually do one well and pretty poor at the other. Having both can be a great dual strategy if your campus or building space allows it. For SBC, the wrestle is what happens in those environments and that is where there real work has been. Making each environment have clear expectations is key. We have also learned there is overlap and distinctions in each environment.

  • Barry Watts says:

    Chuck, I’ll bite. 35 years ago when I was a pastor, I was an early adopter in the Small Groups instead of Sunday School movement—for all the right reasons. Today, my thinking has shifted back to the Sunday morning, on-sight, Sunday School type structure we grew up with. Here’s a few reasons why:

    #1. It is easier to get people into a group on Sunday morning when they are already there for a service.
    #2. You can better manage the messaging….teach the teachers…program the content….etc. My experience is that theological rootedness is promoted through a more traditionally structured Sunday School than is likely in a small group context.
    #3. My own girls, now young 20’s, didn’t get the “content” absorbtion through the more loosely structured small-group environment that I got through the highly structured Sunday School movement
    #4. It’s easier to be a spectator in a church with loose small groups, than in a church with “Sunday School adjacent to the service.” It’s handier to take somebody down the hall to class with you, than to seek them out and try to get them to come over to your house on Thursday evening.
    #5. I travel. I’m writing this from a hotel room 1000 miles from home. When I get home, I want to be home. But I never travel on Sunday morning. Then, I’m in my church and it would be easy for me to be in a small group there, at that time, if it were possible (but the young leaders in my church who didn’t grow up in Sunday School are resistant.)

    It’s not either/or, but probably both/and. But if I were involved in church leadership again I would definitely deploy a more theologically robust, well-structured, leader-developing, on-site type model. And, I wish I could help make that happen in my own church.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.