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FAST Teams & Care Groups
By Dan Vis
June 29, 2018
Comments: 10

From the very beginning of our ministry, we have promoted the importance of forming FAST teams, or groups, to teach and encourage personal discipleship. Then after seeing the great success of Care Groups in Australia and other places, we began encouraging people to start these as well. I still believe both are critically important and have a place in the revitalization of any church.

But over the years as we've talked about these two kinds of groups, there has also been some confusion. Sometimes people will start a FAST team and call it a Care Group. Or they will try to start a Care Group and want to use the FAST curriculum. It's clear, not everyone understands the fundamental and important differences between these two kinds of ministry.

Similarities

There are similarities, of course. Both are small groups, usually consisting of 6-8 members, though sometimes they can have as many as 12-15 participants.

Both encourage discipleship by incorporating a combination prayer, Bible study, personal application, and sharing in each meeting.

Both do best when led by well-trained leaders with a clear grasp of the purpose of their group, and a strong commitment to fulfill that purpose.

But beyond this, the differences between a FAST team and a Care Group are profound.

Differences

A FAST team typically meets in a local church during the lesson study period before the weekly sermon. Care Groups normally meet in a church member's home, one evening during the week.

The structure of a FAST Team consists of an accountability period, review of a lesson studied in advance, clear weekly objectives including assigned memory verses, practical ministry training, and focused, directed prayer. Care Groups typically begin with a meal, incorporate singing, have a more spontaneous, and informal Bible study, with few or no assignments, and a more personal sharing and prayer.

FAST teams have set enrollment periods and set ending dates, and new members do not normally join at various points though the course. Care Groups are ongoing and can continue for years, with new participants welcome to join at any point.

FAST teams are almost exclusively church members, or friends of the church. Care Groups, while they have a core group of church members leading it, often have non-members and even non-Christians attending.

After participating in numerous FAST teams and Care Groups over the years, it's easy to say both have a very different feel to them. And there's a reason: form follows function.

Form Follows Function

One of the elders in my last church was a brilliant strategist who loved to make the point form should follow function. That is, the shape of a ministry should be adapted to accomplish the mission of that ministry, rather than the activity of that ministry being defined by it's structure. And when form hinders function, it is the form that needs to change.

This is the secret to understanding the difference between a FAST team and a Care Group.

The function of a FAST team is to disciple the members of a local church. To accomplish this, we choose a form that best facilitates spiritual growth. We choose a time and place that is most convenient for members. We use an intentional and well-designed curriculum built on a biblical model of training. We optimize every aspect of the class to encourage commitment through accountability and exhortation. The end goal is to transform members into strong workers who are equipped to reach out to others.

The function of a Care Group is to reach out evangelistically to the members of our community. To accomplish this, we meet in a location friends are more likely to come. We include strong social components to help foster relationships, and there are low commitment levels to give people time to wrestle through their personal questions of faith. The end goal is to transform seekers into believers who are spiritually ready to commit their life to Christ.

In other words, both groups are defined by their purpose, their goal, their function. And every aspect of their shape, structure, form flows from that. FAST teams are optimized for making disciples. Care Groups are optimized to bring seekers to faith. Keeping the two goals clear, guides every decision about how to run each kind of group.

Connecting Links

This doesn't mean that these two approaches are completely disconnected. They can and should be closely linked together.

The FAST training curriculum includes detailed instructions about how to launch, lead, and unleash a Care Group. Ideally, every Care Group leader should complete this training curriculum as a part of their preparation for leadership. Otherwise, your leaders may lack important spiritual disciplines essential to a successful Care Group. Or worse, your core team members may have conflicting views about how your Care Group should operate, leading to confusion and potentially conflict.

Similarly, seekers who come to Christ within the context of a Care Group should be encouraged to join a FAST team for follow-up training. While the Care Group can continue to provide spiritual support and nurture for a new Christian, it's not optimized for discipleship training, and new believers may fail to advance as rapidly as they would with a more intentional training program. This can lead to large Care Groups with insufficient leadership preventing the group from branching into multiple locations.

But Care Groups are also important to the training process of a FAST team. In a church with active Care Groups, team members can be encouraged to attend a Care Group one or more times to observe its dynamics. Rather than spending nine weeks discussing Care Groups in a theoretical and abstract way, the various details of the training material will suddenly become more significant and the discussion more engaging. You can learn how to run a Care Group through a course, but it's better to simultaneously see one in operation first hand.

And graduates of a FAST team need to be urged to transition into ministry upon completion of their training. Otherwise, they are likely to find the discipleship skills they have gained start to atrophy. And the obvious way to do that, is to assign them supporting roles in a Care Group. Discipleship training that fails to transform members into workers is flawed. Having Care Groups available where members can smoothly move into service is a huge help.

Conclusion

While FAST teams and Care Groups have similarities, the differences between them is significant, and important. Realizing that FAST teams are designed to train members for service, and that Care Groups are designed to help seekers become believers is the first step in understanding the differences between them. The second is recognizing that every detail of their structures should be defined by their purpose. That is, form follows function.

Yet they are not two separate and disconnected ministries. Both are closely linked and work best together. FAST teams train new Care Group leaders, and help train new believers won to Christ in a Care Group. And existing Care Groups serve as a model to enrich the training experience of participants in a FAST team, and then provide important opportunities for frontline ministry to members of a FAST team when they graduate.

FAST teams and Care Groups work best when their purposes are clear and both are optimized for their specific purpose. Trying to blend or mix the two only leads to confusion and weakens the effectiveness of both. Keep them separate, but link them together in ways that help both fulfil their mission. Training and evangelism are both essential to fulfilling the Great Commission.


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Comments

Have you ever been confused about the difference between a FAST team and a Care Group? Does this article help? How important is it to know the purpose of your group? How important is it that form follows function?

Posted by Dan Vis on 02/26/19

All of our FAST study guides are designed for FAST teams--because of the accountability built into them. Prophetic Facts and the FAST Facts courses are an exception to that, but they are more designed for personal Bible studies. None of our courses were designed for Care Groups.

In our Training Center area there is a Care Groups link, with some notes on the kinds of studies that would work well in a Care Group. These outlines were developed out at Gateway, and we were given permission to post them here. Good question Lesley!

Posted by Lesley Noakes on 02/25/19
Hi Dan, have you ever categorised which of your courses are suitable for fostering care groups as opposed to Fast Team Groups?
Posted by Dan Vis on 12/07/18
Glad it was helpful David! I guess you caught the point of the picture: comparing apples and oranges... :)
Posted by David Edmunds on 12/06/18
yes that has clear some of my questions........ also i like your photo
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/20/18
Sorry I missed your comment X. Just wanted to emphasize your take away point. So true. Won't repeat it, because you said it so well...
Posted by X on 06/30/18
Great article. Yes this helps me understand the purpose of a care group and how it’s different from the FAST group. Thanks. I’m considering the thought how our discipleship skills may begin to atrophy if we do not immediately enter ministry. That’s also an important take away point for me.
Posted by Dan Vis on 06/30/18
Glad this info was helpful everyone! I see confusion about this question a lot. Thought it would be a good idea to explain the answer somewhere for everyone's future reference. Glad this works!
Posted by Deanna Dekle on 06/30/18
Thank you for the concise description. It makes it clear how much both are needed
Posted by Patricia Jones on 06/29/18
That helped clarify things for me. Thanks!
Posted by John Gilmore on 06/29/18
Thank you, Dan, for the clarification. I can see the need for both.

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