Does it matter how long a meeting lasts? Does it matter if some meetings are one hour and others are four hours? There are many considerations as we look at home groups, which address culture, participants and family schedules. Paul said it well, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40) Put these principles into practice.
Avoid a stop watch.
Okay, let’s get this over with first, a stop-watch is not a prerequisite for home groups. Just because television shows are precise on how long each show is, movies vary. Just because every football game has 60 minutes, you know how long an actual game can vary. Just because Sunday School teachers might watch their watches on Sunday morning to vary the activities for the children, the people in the service are more focused on the message, music and movement of the Spirit than the clock. So be flexible in how long the home group should last, but the main scheduled time should flow and be consistent. How long people stay afterwards will depend on relationships and God the Holy Spirit.
People should know the approximate schedule.
You will have some young people that come to eat first and then stay until midnight talking, but that is the culture of young single people in contrast to married people with kids or those whose children have moved on (older people are less prone to stay five hours until midnight). But for most people, follow a normal schedule of opening, worship, discussion and prayer. The purpose is not so that you get into a rut, or that you try to be totally unique, but so that you help disciples realize there is a process that they can grow into and it is about helping them become disciple-makers themselves. Consistency is far better to replicate than inconsistency. Inconsistency is easy to replicate, but it will get out of control by leaders who do not follow a pattern and they will detract from what your church represents. God is a God of love and mercy, but He’s also a God of order. “He may wait, but He’s never late!”
People count on the timing schedule for work and other events.
Most people run on a schedule. Most people function best with routine. Does that mean you are trying to create robotons? NO! There is plenty of time afterwards to eat, relate, laugh and cry. But most people want to know what they can count on for the schedule. Then after the “regularly scheduled” discussion, they may choose how much they want to be involved in. Some people have to get up at 3:45 am to be to work at 5 am. They need to know they have freedom to drive home at 8:30 pm or whenever the meeting is normally designed to be completed.
Flexible time may be something the host leaders provide after the meeting time.
Let the discussion meeting time be somewhat consistent (although not scheduled down to the minute). Varying ten minutes is not a problem, because relationships, caring and prayer are often not measured with a clock. That is why a food-snack after the meeting is so important and for the host couple to be light-hearted with people sticking around to talk. It is often “after the meeting” when leadership can tell if the people are really bonding or not.
An hour and a half is about right.
So how long should a meeting be? For most scenarios, an hour and a half is about right. If you start at 7 pm and end at 8:30 pm, that works for most people. However, we have one group that is meeting at the church building and the 90 minutes is more restrictive, because of people departing and children who need to be picked up from their activities. We also have one group that meets during the Fellowship Group time on Sunday morning and that time is limited to 70 minutes. After the 70 minutes, the group has just a few extra minutes for flex time before the worship service begins. Yet, all the other groups meet in homes and there is more flexibility. The 90 minutes allows about the right amount of time for welcome, opening, worship, discussion and prayer.
These are just a few reasons why a 90 minutes schedule works well. It’s long enough for people to slow down to relax and rest in the Lord. It’s long enough for people to become transparent and authentic. Yet, it is short enough that people can get back into their personal schedules and not feel constrained in a “long, wearisome meeting.”