Philosophy of Ministry: Off-Campus Groups vs. On-Campus Classes

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I’ve written quite a bit about the subject of building a small group ministry in a church with a Sunday School culture.  This is an important topic because it is where so many churches are.  A legacy program in a changing landscape.  And it’s a challenging situation.

That said, I want to talk today about some underlying philosophical assumptions that are shaping decisions around the country.  It may seem a little more rambling than normal.  Just work with me!  And as always, I’d love to hear your take and you can jump in by using the comment section below!

Q: Are there philosophy of ministry questions that help make the case for off-campus vs. on-campus?

A: I think there are at least three.

  1. Does the experience make disciples?  I’ve listed this first because I believe it is the first question.  It leads to a deeper question (that we can tackle another time), but at a minimum, making disciples takes observation (someone modeling how to do it), discussion, and participation in a set of practices.  Obviously, that cannot happen in a lecture environment (whether the class is on-campus or off-campus).  I often make the statement that a smaller version of what’s happening in the worship service will not get it done.  Two-way communication is essential.  Doing things together is essential.  Going out to do it on your own is another essential.  Information is not the point.  It is all about transformation.  Is that happening in your on-campus class?  Is it happening in your off-campus small group?  If the experience isn’t making disciples…then there’s something missing.
  2. Are we helping our congregation prioritize the activities that make disciples?  Since every member’s available time is limited (again, this leads to a deeper discussion), and since all of us struggle to choose what is best for us, many churches are moving in a simple church direction that limits activities to those that contribute best to the desired goal.  Options are eliminated in order to insure that the right choices are easy, obvious and strategic.
  3. Does the on-campus arrangement make service less likely?  My argument is that on-campus tends to provide additional opportunities to consume while making it more difficult to contribute (serve).  This is a little complicated, but if by providing a worship + class arrangement I’ve insured that whole segments of the congregation are unavailable to serve…

Obviously, there are other key questions.  These are three that must be asked when determining your discipleship philosophy of ministry.

Want do you think?  Want to argue? Have a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. Todd Smeltzer on July 28, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Mark,good points! Having worked in an On Campus/Off Campus hybrid environment for a while, it’s possible for the ultimate goal of both to be the same but different means to the end are required. Another question could be, “How many steps are involved for each approach?” Due to On Campus groups being more pressed for time during each session; without intentionality, fellowship and accountability usually take place at an alternate time (not to mention mission/service). In contrast, maybe because of the more relaxed setting, Off Campus groups seem to fulfill teaching/discussion, fellowship and accountability in one setting more easily. This only leaves mission/service to be done at another time.

  2. Mark Howell on July 28, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Like your thinking Todd! Thanks for jumping in! And I really like the additional question! Thanks!


  3. Barry Ginn on September 4, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Hey Mark, our church had the Sunday School model for about 41 years. Two years ago we switched to the on-campus small group model and it has worked great. Now, we are getting ready to ask all of our remaining groups on campus (4) and some off campus groups (6) to start meeting in homes….without childcare provision from the church. What are some things we need to be considering in order to set this up for success and not failure?

  4. markchowell on September 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Good for you guys Barry! I love the way you’re going about the transition! Sounds like you are moving ahead well.

    Figuring out what to do about childcare can be a hurdle for many groups…but it doesn’t need to be. After all, when it comes to most other activities a parent (whether married or single) wants to do (i.e., sports, education, social, etc.), they tend to figure it out.

    We’ve found that by encouraging new groups to commit to figuring out how to handle it for the first 2 to 3 weeks, they’ll be motivated to come up with a more permanent solution by week 3 or 4.

    Here’s a link to an article I wrote about what to do about childcare: We actually provide this list of the 4 most common options to every new small group leader.

    Hope this helps! And keep me posted on your transition!