Inspiring a Love for Evangelism
Trimester Groups
Trimester groups can include any number of people, limited by the leader’s ability to effectively lead and the space of the facility.  Some leaders can manage a group of 15 but no larger, while others may be able to facilitate a group as large as 30, depending on their training and personality.  There are different names used for Trimester Groups such as Free Market Groups, Small Groups, Tender Loving Care (TLC) Groups, Grow Groups, Serendipity Groups, etc.  

Trimester Groups meet for 8-12 weeks sessions followed by a 4-week break.  Each semester will include different kinds of groups and even different leaders.  A leader should not lead a group for more than two semesters in a row without taking a break, so the leader avoids burn out.  These kinds of groups are often referred to as Free Market Groups because there is a freedom to lead out in a variety of group topics.  Individuals have a freedom to attend the group that they are interested in gaining more knowledge.

Types of Trimester Groups

Neal McBride, in his book How to Build a Small Groups Ministry, shares that there are four types of Trimester Groups.  They are as follows:
Relationship-Oriented Groups.  The group’s primary focus is more on the social relationship among its members.  This type of group is very useful in building relationships with our neighbors and friends who may not be Christians.  These groups will focus on leisure time together.  However, there is always a Spiritual component to each group each time they meet, such as sharing a Scriptural text and having prayer.  

Some examples of such groups would be:
  • Camping
  • Golfing
  • Scrapbooking
  • Paintball
  • Barbeques
  • Gardening
  • Hiking
  • Bowling
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Ice Skating
  • Table Tennis
  • Table Games
  • Birthday Parties
  • etc.  

Need-Oriented Groups.  The primary reason for this group category is to offer a ministry that would meet a common need among the community.  These groups could be support groups or recovery groups but not necessarily.  The idea is to find a need in the church and/or community and offer a short-term small group series to help meet that need.  

Some examples of such groups would be:
  • Stress Management
  • Nutritional Cooking Schools
  • Stop Smoking Program (Breath Free II)
  • Financial Programs
  • Marriage Enrichment
  • Parenting Skills
  • etc.
Content-Oriented Groups.  This type of group includes a variety of Bible study or discussion groups of non-Biblical topics.  The main reason for meeting is to study or discuss a Biblical passage or topic.  It is a time of systematic study of God’s Word or a forum for discussing relevant topics.  These groups could also be offered as discipleship groups in mentoring others through given study topics.  

Some examples of such groups would be:
  • Daniel and Revelation,
  • The book of Philippians, Acts, Mark, Psalms or any book of the Bible
  • The fundamental beliefs
  • Practices of the Scripture
  • Women of the Bible
  • The Sanctuary
  • The Great Wars of the Nations
  • Woman’s Rights
  • etc.

Task-Oriented Groups.  These groups exist for the purpose of accomplishing an assigned task.  The task may serve the church or community. The group will exist for the time it takes to complete the task.

Some examples of such groups would be:
  • a foreign mission project
  • a nursing home project
  • repairing and/or painting a home
  • cleaning a yard or house
  • gardening
  • washing windows
  • etc.

As one can see, most Need-Oriented, Relationship, and Task-Oriented Groups along with some Content-Oriented Groups would be aiming to reach the community, building friends and relationships to find those who are open to our message.  At the same time Conten-Oriented groups could easily be used for equipping and discipling existing church members.


There are a few simple leadership principles to be learned.  In most cases, the initial training can be done in one short evening.  The pre-service training needs to be short and positive, while in-service training is what really grows leaders. In-service training takes place, while they are leading or helping lead a group.  During the session, the leaders can meet once or twice with those appointed over them for a brief update and enrichment in leadership.

Structure, in most cases, follows the Jethro Model.  For every five small groups, there is a leader over those leaders for the purpose of encouragement, prayer, support, and answering questions that come up from time to time within each group.  Different authors and pastors choose different names for such positions.  Nelson Searcy refers to the first roll of leaders that support the group leaders, “Team Leaders,” while others prefer to refer to them as “Coaches.”  It is interesting to note that studies have pointed out that effective Team Leaders/Coaches should never be responsible for more than three groups to better support to the groups.  This is especially true if the Team Leader/Coach is also leading a group of their own.  Every Team Leader/Coach should have led a small group of their own in the past.  There is an old saying, “You can have a weak Small Group Leader but you can never afford to have a weak Coach.”  Structure continues in that for every 3-5 Team Leaders there would be an appointed leader over them.

Topics that could be included in leadership training are:
  • How are groups organized?
  • How does one recruit and advertise their group?
  • How does one get pre-approved before starting a group?
  • When is the kick-off date for starting next semester’s groups?
  • How to weekly report the happenings of the small group?
  • When will the group do an evangelism outreach together?
  • When will the group do something fun together?

Remember, each group leader chooses what they feel comfortable and passionate about teaching/leading.  It is the Holy Spirit leading them and moving upon them that will make the group a great success.