Dividends and Drawbacks of Small Groups

Whatever else may be said, this much we can be sure of: There will always dividends and drawbacks to small groups.

We are currently trying to figure out the best way to assimilate new families and individuals into these small groups. However, we are also currently working out a plan to reproduce some of the small groups that are growing numerically by breaking them up and starting new ones. Still, as we have already noted, we must be aware of the fact that there will always be dividends and drawbacks to a small group structure in a church.

 

The term “small group” (or its many variations) carries almost as much baggage as the word “missional.” It means many different things to different people. Some envision small groups to be places of meals, sharing and service, while others see them as places of discipleship and spiritual growth. In his book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, Jack Miller explained that there are basically four small group models–the growth model, the healing model, the worker model and the missionary model. The growth model views a small group as a place that exist primarily for the spiritual growth of the members; the healing model as a place of transparency, support and care; the worker model as a place where service is encouraged and initiated; and the missionary model, as a place to fuel evangelism. Miller proceeded to point out some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of these models and then argued for something of a synthesizing of the various beneficial aspects of all four. Whatever else may be said, this much we can be sure of: There will always dividends and drawbacks to small groups.

During the first five years of church planting, we had one collective mid-week meeting at someone’s home. But as the church grew, the mid-week waxed and waned. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not moving to a small group structure when we were averaging 50-60 people in our worship services. Years ago, my pastoral assistant said to me, “For the church to get bigger it needs to get smaller.” Considering the fact that 75-80% of the people in a church will likely commit–to some degree or another–to a small group, we could have easily had 4-5 small groups over the first 5 years. We missed the boat, so to speak.

After brainstorming for months about the best way to reorganize and restructure our midweek meeting, we decided to implemented small groups in the following manner:

  • We intentionally grouped families and individuals together by geographical location, yet gave people the freedom to go to whatever small group they wanted.
  • We approached several people to see if they would be willing to open their homes in those regions.
  • We asked some men in the church who we considered to be potential elders to be facilitators.
  • We had a church plant meeting and told the members what we were doing. We asked them to sign up for one of the new small groups.
  • We asked a couple if they would be willing to sit behind a display table every Sunday morning (for one month prior to launching the small groups) and set the table right outside of the worship room door so that we could get maximum sign up.
  • We encouraged the facilitators to appoint one person in their group to be a contact person who would call or email each person who signed up for that group to remind them of monthly meetings and events.
  • We encouraged each group to choose between going over the sermon with questions that I would write or to pick approved teaching material (such as the 22-24 minute Lionier teaching segments with study guides).
  • We gave each group the freedom to pick a day that they wanted to meet and asked that each group meet at least twice a month.
  • We gave each group the freedom to decide whether to eat a meal or dessert together–while strongly encouraging them to do one or the other.
  • We offered to provide child care for all of the small groups.

In just a matter of months, it became apparent that the Lord was blessing this new structure. We are currently trying to figure out the best way to assimilate new families and individuals into these small groups. However, we are also currently working out a plan to reproduce some of the small groups that are growing numerically by breaking them up and starting new ones. Still, as we have already noted, we must be aware of the fact that there will always be dividends and drawbacks to a small group structure in a church. Here are five dividends and five drawbacks that we should always keep in mind:

Dividends

  1. Small Groups should encourage greater commitment to the Lord’s Day gatherings in the life of a church. A small group should serve as a springboard to propel the members to be committed to Sunday school and morning and evening worship. Small group facilitators should be encouraging the group wisely, lovingly and regularly to fulfill their vows to regularly attend Lord’s Day services. If the small group is functioning as it should, the members should be willing to “exhort one another daily” not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. When members begin to slide away from regular worship, members of the small group should reach out and see how to best encourage restoration in a gentle and loving way.
  2.  Small Groups should encourage close spiritual friendships among the members of the church. 

Drawbacks

  1. Small Groups can become a replacement for corporate worship. This is an all too common problem in churches. People can get excited about getting together with their small group, but not about coming together to worship the Lord with all His people on the Lord’s Day. We are commanded to worship together on the Lord’s Day, not to meet in mid-week small groups. I cannot count the number of times people have said to me, “Our small group is really our church.” This potential drawback needs to be proactively warned against by the facilitators and members of a small group see it beginning to occur.
  2. Small Groups can easily devolve into cliques. One very real danger of small groups is that they can become cliques that exist in the gathered assembly on the Lord’s Day.

Read More