Now that restrictions are starting to ease in Texas, every business, industry, organization, and type of gathering is grappling with what the road ahead looks like and what the “new normal” will be, including our church and your small group.

In some ways, small groups might seem like the easiest or most logical place to start when it comes to gathering in-person again. But there are some considerations to think through and challenges to face.

So, how should your group approach the next few months? Here’s my quick answer and then I’ll explain more in the rest of this blog. At the end of the day, we are relying on the wisdom of leaders and the group collectively to make decisions about what they feel comfortable with as long as it follows CDC and state guidelines. However, we want to recommend that for the rest of the season (May and June), your group’s regular gatherings happen digitally. I don’t think it’s a problem if 2-3 families want to get together in-person. In fact, that’s probably a good thing! But I think it’s best for your official group meetings to happen digitally for May and June.

After that, we recommend your group take a break from your regular schedule in July. That will give everyone a chance to recharge for the summer and hit the ground running in the fall. In the fall, we will start promoting groups in August and have open enrollment where people can find or re-join a group. The groups season will officially launch right after Labor Day.

That’s the quick(ish) answer. Now for the longer one, and some thoughts for you to consider as you make wise decisions for those in your sphere of influence.

A leading small group expert, Chris Surratt, wrote an excellent article that is worth reading: Is your small group post-Covid ready? He outlines a few good questions to ask and some of the factors every small group will wrestle with. Factors like how to handle childcare, serving food, having a bathroom people feel comfortable with using, and how to socially distance in a living room. Many of us don’t have a room large enough where 15 people could spread far enough apart to match current guidelines.

I’ve heard valid opinions and perspectives across the spectrum on where people are at with interacting with others right now. The factors mentioned in the article might seem like overkill to some of us. Totally get it. But for others of us, those factors could keep us from coming to group. And it increases the burden on the host to make it work for people across the board.

This is why I think it’s best to stay digital for the rest of this semester. It allows your group to finish the season strong and intact, where no one falls through the cracks because they weren’t comfortable with new meeting arrangements. And then in the fall, when we have more perspective, new guidelines, and a fresh season to start, each group and group member can make a decision for what they want to do. I imagine groups will vary–some will mainly meet in-person, some only digitally, and others a hybrid of the two. Group members can decide what fits for them personally. And if it doesn’t, we’ll have plenty of other groups for them to connect to that would fit their preferences. We’re planning to offer more digital groups than we have in the past.

So, in summary, here are the different stages we’re recommending for groups to do over the next few months:

Stage 1 (May and June): Finish the Season Strong. We recommend official group meetings happen digitally. If comfortable, we encourage 2-3 families or friends to gather in person outside of official meetings.

Stage 2 (July): Take a Break. Mix up your normal meeting rhythm. Consider doing a social event here or there. We’ll plan to do a training toward the end of the month for leaders to prep for the next semester.

Stage 3 (August and September): Launch for Fall. In August we’ll promote all groups and have an open enrollment where people can join or re-join a group. We’ll ask all groups to start meeting again right after Labor Day.

This is the plan, but as you know, plans can change right now. We’ll keep watching to see what happens and what the government recommends and make adjustments accordingly.

Our goal is to love one another and help each other take steps in our walk with Jesus. Community has never been more important than it is right now. Thank you for fighting through “screen fatigue,” changing dynamics, learning new technologies, and this “new normal.” A group of friends pulling for each other makes a world of difference. And you all are making that happen.

For more information about groups or to join a group at Chase Oaks, visit our Groups page.