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As we continue this month's focus on the importance of Care Groups, some may be wondering how these relate to a FAST team. I've pulled out this article to compare and contrast the two. It's got some important concepts, and definitely worth the read!



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 share and prayer time.

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.

Ideally, every Care Group core member should complete the FAST discipleship track as a part of their preparation for leadership. Otherwise, your leaders may lack important spiritual disciplines essential to a successful Care Group. And where possible, they should work through the Team Tactics program, which includes detailed instructions about how to launch, lead, and unleash a Care Group. This keeps core team members united on how your Care Group should operate, enabling you to avoid confusion and even 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 that lack sufficient 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 merely discussing Care Groups in a theoretical and abstract way, the details of the training material 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.



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?

Can you help by sharing this article with a friend?
Use this link: http://fast.st/218/
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/27/23 - Coach
Thank you for sharing some of your experience Jeannie!

Yes, there are all sorts of possibilities for FAST training Yi Han. I think the next best times are either a Sabbath afternoon slot (right after lunch) or a Prayer meeting slot. I've also know churches to do an early morning Sabbath meeting and you can always do groups in homes at anytime.

A different time is actually better in a small church. For a larger church, you can remind people that the goal is to get some training and then return to the regular class better equipped to participate there. I've seen this transform the traditional Sabbath School class after a few batches of graduates come back. In fact some churches start a high commitment Sabbath School class using FAST principles but applied to the quarterly--to keep their study skills strong. More on that another time.

As for Care Groups, at Gateway these are always done on Friday nights, which is perfect for college students. In our church we tried some on Saturday nights thinking we could invite seekers from church to come out. That worked to some extent, and was better for me personally. Late Friday nights were hard for me as a pastor, because my Sabbath were always super full. But Care Groups can be at other times too. Acts 2 suggests their groups met all through the week (daily). I know of groups that meet during the day as well. This works well for older members who often don't like to drive at night. And is an option for groups targeting stay at home moms with small kids as well.

In my church now (medium-small), we're having trouble getting people to come to our Sabbath morning class, partly because a large number are involved in teaching the children's divisions. So we're looking at other times. I'm seeing this as a chance for my current graduates to help train others, while I give more advanced training to them during the Sabbath school time.

Lot's of possibilities! :) Thanks for a great question...
Posted by Yi Han Wong on 04/24/23
In the article, it was suggested FAST training can be done during Sabbath School, before the sermon, however this might take members out of SS which they really enjoy, just curious, are there any other time slots when people did FAST training? Or is it a case of picking one or the other?
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 04/21/23
Dan just to clarify while I often felt a loss for words to help others understand FAST, I started privately with 5 women and it grew to 7. While we were organizing and getting started with Survival Kit, a board member, who knew what I was doing presented a request to the board to support our small group FAST subscription financially, The board agreed to do this. Later, I presented more of the vision of FAST to the board and after I presented, the “fill-in Pastor” made the motion to accept FAST as the church’s official “Discipleship Training” and that I would work as an assistant with the Personal ministries leader. This was unanimously voted for by the board. This occurred just before the lockdowns of COVID and the church met on ZOOM all during the year I went through the training with the small group of ladies. It was the most joyous time of my church experience as a Seventh Day Adventist.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/21/23 - Coach
Happy if that was helpful Jeannie. Leaders are constantly getting bombarded by one program proposal after another, especially the higher up you go. Being too zealous about something can sometimes be a red flag to them, so it's good to be cautious and go slow.

They also have a popular saying: the proof is in the pudding. Which just means, show me the results first, then I'll get on board.
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 04/20/23
Dan Thank you for this timely counsel.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/20/23 - Coach
Actually, sometimes simpler is better Jeannie, for all the reasons you gave. It's hard to argue with our need for a deeper experience in the Word. People may argue about some of the specifics but keeping it focused on our ultimate need--esp when combined with a strong personal testimony is probably our most convincing argument. They can learn more as they go--just like you did!

Also, I think it's better to start small with a few and get them excited about the change in their life. Leaders are often resistant for whatever reason. But when they start seeing the positive impact you have made in the lives of members they have long known, they will begin to take more interest. Curiosity will draw them better than anything else.

Same with your Care Group. Start with a small team--and when you start getting baptisms, leaders in your church will take note. You can be sure of that--especially if nothing else is working effectively... :)
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 04/20/23
Dan I like your simple overview definition statement of what FAST, yet so much more is needed to be said when it comes to trying to cast a “FAST-vision” so others can understand the scope of the training, along with the potential impact on personal and church community growth. I go weak trying to sell other church leaders on the vision and they have gone weary with my enthusiasm.:) They do not see the value of memorization. In the past I have been grossly misinterpreted when trying to explain “application projects.” The idea of FAST teams and Care groups get boiled down to “small groups” in their mind. There is much resistance to taking Sabbath School lesson time, and I can understand as the Sabbath School is already weakly attended or the total church membership small. People are so accustomed to being spoon fed and having very little accountability. And the concept of training and growing leaders via taking in the Word seems so baffling to people. They don’t get it. Pastors fear the accountability aspect will scare the membership from buying into the training. It seems like a hard task for bright minds to memorize, so let’s not burden the simple minded folk. God does not require them to memorize. They just need to know basic concepts. They think it is “too intense.” It really is a challenge to correctly paint the picture with words in a short time to others, so they can see the value and power of such a training. Leadership and members are use to the weekend discipleship seminars with loud music and entertaining speakers. I am praying for the Holy Spirit’s help, as I move forward in casting the value and vision in a new church group setting.
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/20/23 - Coach
So putting that all together Jeannie, Colette:

FAST is a discipleship training ministry built on a foundation of scripture memorization and application...

Pretty good. I didn't realize people struggled with what we are--but I've heard that several times over the last few days so I guess God is trying to catch my attention. I've always put it this way

FAST is an endtime ministry calling God's people back to the Bible...

That still kind of resonates with me, though it seems the word "revival" ought to be in there somewhere! :)
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/20/23 - Coach
You're welcome Jeannie. Oh yes, memorization plus application. Let me add training to discipleship too.

Today in the Breakout Memory Challenge we are learning that unless people see the VALUE of it (Proverbs 19:8He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.) they will not do it consistently over time. They need a VISION of the importance (Proverbs 29:18Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.). Keep looking for people who are FAST and not SLOW.
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 04/20/23
Colette. Thank you for this description in simple words, Colette! I would add “and application” to the end. I have had church members who did not want to memorize give me long speeches about how it is not the memorization but the application that really matters!😉. A bit annoying.
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/19/23 - Coach
It was very timely Dan! Jeannie, I like to say that Fast is a discipleship ministry built on a foundation of scripture memorization.😊
Posted by Dan Vis on 04/19/23 - Coach
Glad this was helpful Colette. Sounds like it was really good timing! :)

Yes, of course Barbara. For Care Group training, we have an introductory course named Called to Care and a more advanced nuts and bolts training course named Team Tactics. That class is especially important, as it gives helpful tips on every aspect of Care Group management. There's also a sermon series on Care Groups I did in Australia I believe you might enjoy listening too...

Rebecca, if you read our Leaders Manual, it goes over everything you need to run a FAST team. I don't recommend starting team without reading that at least twice! :)

Glad this was helpful for you also Jeannie. There are definitely a lot of pieces to put together here but they all start fitting together after awhile! It's a growth process for FAST too, as we're constantly filling in pieces in our training content as we discover them, and are able.

As for the Leaders Council, imagine for a moment, FAST is like a local church. The Leaders Council is all the officers in that church holding various volunteer positions to help make that church flourish. The Advisory Board, which is a part of that, is like the church board, helping to oversee everything. Ultimately if FAST is going to thrive, it has to expand into something larger than it is. So the idea is to invite everyone possible in who wants to help with that. I also have some special surprises planned for those who respond to that call... :)
Posted by Jeannie Marcoux on 04/18/23
Thank you so much for this clarification. I have been completely confused! I now understand the difference between the focus of the Revival Keys class and Team Tactics. Praise God for understanding. The vision you share on this website is so big and comprehensive that it is hard to understand how one piece of the puzzle fits into the whole when you first become a member.    It has taken me years to go from taking your Crash Course on memorization to my current understanding of the big picture! This is like finally putting in the last piece of the puzzle! LOL! No wonder I have always found it so difficult to find words to efficiently and accurately share with others what FAST is all about…so much more than Bible memorization! I am keeping this memo in my sharing tool bag!

I must add that I am still unclear about what the leadership council on FAST is about and how it operates. Another layer or “puzzle!”
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/17/23 - Coach
Hi Rebecca, the Survival Kit is a 5-week course. We'll be doing it in seven, one extra at the start for introductions and one at the end for celebrations.😊 I will keep you posted on our progress. I think Bro David is also planning to do one at his church.
Posted by Rebecca Gottfried on 04/17/23
I see the need for both types of groups and how they work together, but they’re different. They’re both important but they are reaching people at different stages of their Christian journey. Care groups are for those “seekers” who haven’t fully committed to Christ. FAST teams seem more focused on training people who are already members.
Colette How long is the Survival kit class? I’d like to hear how the class at your church goes.
Posted by Barbara E. LaRose on 04/17/23
Thanks for this post making the differences between these groups so clear. Since I’ve experienced both class trainings and a care group it was easy to see the difference. But really appreciated your detailed information on it. Also appreciate the email address for Rightly Trained and for the question on, do you have anything in Fast, like lessons to help get a small Care Group started. I will be looking under the Care Group Link.
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 04/17/23 - Coach
Even though I have read this before (and even commented) it seems very fresh to me now. This article is very timely for me as we are looking to launch a group this weekend at church that will go through the Survival Kit.

I recognise the need to get the function right. It helps to guide us to the right target group and to set goals that will ensure that we have good fruit at the end of our time together. Knowing that ideally persons in a Fast Team should not join at multiple points during the course makes it important to target the participants early rather than leave them to drop in randomly.
Posted by Dan Vis on 10/18/22 - Coach
Glad this helped answer your questions Pua. And you definitely got the key point: that we must first discern the purpose of our team or group and then organize every facet of it to accomplish that purpose. Teams for training and evangelism are distinct purposes and thus take distinct forms.
Posted by Pua Weal on 10/17/22
Yes I have been unsure of the difference! This has been a very helpful article! It is important to know the purpose of your group so you can choose the right group for its function. It is important that form follows function so when you know the function you can formulate the form to take.
Posted by Dan Vis on 08/26/21 - Coach
It is definitely more challenging Valerie. But as Colette pointed out, it may be necessary to use virtual groups for the moment. Though I'm praying we'll soon see things turn...

I like that Paul, the idea of the care group being the bridge, and the FAST team laying the planks. Nice analogy. Also, so true about needing the Lord to give us wisdom to know how to do these things--especially during these difficult times.
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 08/24/21 - Coach
Valerie that's a great initiative - a Zoom Prayer Group. There are a lot of resources at https://www.rightlytrained.org that could help you get going with a Care Group but prayer is an ideal way to start.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/24/21 - Coach
Colette,
Thank you. I knew that I would get good ideas when I posed the question here. I will explore how a Care Group can happen where I am. Currently, I have started a Zoom prayer group. I am using the Wheel of Faith Ministries series for our study and have invited another church group to join us. The group is small, and I will prayerfully seek how to go forward.
Blessings,
Posted by Colette Guthrie on 08/23/21 - Coach
Valerie I'm in a group that meets online using Zoom. It's made up of friends and colleagues of our New Believers class as well as the New Believers. We have everything that the standard Care Group has except for the food! Well-planned ice-breakers and other activities can fill that fellowship time very well.

Paul lovely analogy there with the planks on the bridge! This concept of the link between the community and the church comes through very clearly in the model for a successful church. I like the texts you used as well. Very important that we seek the direction of the Holy Spirit before launching out in ministry.
Posted by Paul Carson on 08/23/21
In a sense the Care Group is a figurative bridge from the church to the community - is evangelistic in purpose and structured to build trusting relationships.
The FAST Team lays the planks across the bridge -is disciple-making in purpose and structured to train believers to know what the bridge is for and how and when to use it.
May we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church; and may the LORD give us understanding in all things as we apply these God-given tools to the calling upon our lives - Revelation 3:22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.; II Timothy 2:7Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.b.
Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 08/23/21 - Coach
Dan,
This is instructive and my question is how to create a Care Group during this pandemic time? I solicit ideas from the group.
I have read some wonderful Mission stories where people found ways to create Care Groups in Urban Centers of Influence so I know that it can be done. With God all things are possible. Luke 1:37For with God nothing shall be impossible.
Posted by Dan Vis on 02/26/19 - Coach
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 - Coach
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 - Coach
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 - Coach
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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