Home > Small Group Philosophy > Building the case for multi-generational small groups

Building the case for multi-generational small groups

I constantly battle back and forth over what the make-up of a group, and by implication the design of a small group ministry, should be. One main dynamic seems to consistently float to the top in most churches utilizing small groups today. Below is a brief pro/con of the model that organizes & launches groups based on the life-stages of the people in their church. For example,  a small group in this model could be…”Just Graduated College and just got Married, no kids yet but practicing.” To be fair I will present my conclusion here: I find this model effective just not fully developed when it comes to “making disciples.”


  • PRO:
    • Meets people where they are. We live in a consumer-driven culture where we are always looking to find stuff tailored to their life category. So most new faces at the Summit come to our small groups team with their life-stage bio and ask the question “Do you have any groups that “FIT” me?” Setting up a small groups ministry to answer that question easily (Yes or No) will help in many ways to connect new faces.
    • Creates easy friendship-making settings. When you come to a group with a lot already in common, its not hard to strike up conversation and find you have similar takes on life & enjoy similar activities. Usually you have 7 to 15 other people who are going through the same general life issues you are which almost instantly builds a bond between you and that person.
    • Same life-stage doesn’t mean same life circumstance. Even in a group with people all alike in age / marital status / kid status, you have people who encounter different circumstances that the others in the group can speak into. For example, someone may have a loved one pass away. It is not uncommon to have another in the group who has experienced this type of loss. The comfort that person can provide is very valuable.
  • CON:
    • Felt needs are not necessarily actual needs. Tailoring the church to fit the “needs” of the consumer has the potential to be quite harmful to a new person entering a church.You’ve probably heard plenty of times that the church has recently tried too hard to “look like the rest of society.” That’s not my point here. My point is, People come in feeling like they need to be around others like them, while what they actually need is discipleship. The two are not mutually exclusive, but you must build a small group ministry on the latter and not the former.
    • Socializing can replace fellowship. The two are different. Often a small group meeting of people all in the same life-stage can look like 1 hour of “catching up”, 20-30 minutes of opinion-driven bible conversation, and a quick blanket prayer at the end. Fellowship is hanging out with a purpose, bible-study with a purpose and prayer with a purpose. Purpose: reminding / encouraging one another of/with  the gospel.
    • Lord of the Flies Syndrome. In some ways a group of 12 guys all age 24-25 & single is awesome. My younger brother is in a group like that (actually they are branching out but still…) and I think its one of the best groups at the Summit Church. Man weekends, grilling out at 9 pm, open-fart zone…all good. However, these small groups do miss the element of mentorship Paul talks about in Titus 2. Older men & women are to be intentionally invested into the lives of younger men and women. This keeps younger men & women from commiserating in life’s difficulties with no helpful wisdom or life experience to draw from.

Hopefully this analysis helps show you some of the advantages of the multi-generational small group model. In this model, people of different ages and life stages are in small group together. Caveat: Im not suggesting any one person should be all alone as the representative for their life stage, instead think Noah’s ark. Go 2×2 with one other person or couple who you identify with and build a small group that has people from different stages of life. Thoughts?

  1. Mike
    March 31, 2009 at 8:59 am

    I’ll speak for the Lord of the Flies and say that we would welcome the wisdom of an older guy in our group.

  2. Shannon
    March 31, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Our multi-generational-life-stage group is amazing! I’m so thankful for the wisdom brought by each person in our group. And we have become friends too!

  3. April 22, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    My wife and I are in our late 40’s and purposely joined a group of 20 somethings recently.

    It’s been tough because they’re takers and not givers at this point in their lives (not that all 20 somethings are takers, but my group is for the most part) but rewarding too. I’m mentoring a guy that’s 20 years my junior now and that would never have happened had I stayed in my “old person” group.

    Another issue to consider is truly intergenerational groups with elderly people in them right down to toddlers. Not easy to pull off, but when everyone’s committed to it, it provides amazing opportunities for ministry and mentoring that no other environment can provide in our society or church life. I’ve been a part of groups like this as well, and my church promotes them…. powerful stuff, community!

  4. D. Alexander Nichols
    August 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

    I have been doing a lot of thinking around this issue and wonder if a new or next generation of small group needs to emerge which meets both felt and actual needs. A small group that is both family unit and small group. George Barna’s research on the failure of the youth group to effect lasting change as the next generation is not expected to return to church at all after they leave college. Kids who are fully engaged in youth groups and are walking away from the faith forever rather than turning back around 30 as happened in the past. Perhaps we re-invent the traditional youth group into a family/youth group keeping the model of relevant teaching, music and worship yet having the small group be the family itself. Two or three families depending on size with a small group of 12. Ages 3 and up could participate. The younger would go to the nursery.
    The next generation small group needs to be a real family. Everyone in the church would have the opportunity to experience a family whether divorced, single, elderly or married without children.
    The “Nextgen” small group would have a mixture of elders, young families and singles. Let’s not marginalize the mature believer by only hiring cool relevant staff to lead our youth. If the whole church met on a Wednesday night for “family night” then there could be well directed teaching, times of song and prayer. What ever happened to just being a church family?

    • spenceshelton
      August 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

      Great thoughts Alexander. You should definitely check out “When the church was a family” by Joseph Hellerman. Will hopefully fuel this fire you have to build the church as a healthy growing body of believers.

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