As far back as I can remember, I was in a church building on Sunday morning, sitting in a circle, with felt-board characters and animal crackers. Small groups have been a part of my church experience my entire life.
Then in the early 2000’s a book came out that took the country by storm. That book was The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. After that book came out, our church did something that I had never experienced before: we started meeting in homes on Sunday nights.
We continued our normal Sunday school as well, but I remember thinking, “This is the answer, if we could only cancel Sunday school and start meeting in homes, all of our church troubles would be solved.”
Many years later, as I’ve been leading a church that features both types of small groups, I’ve come to realize there are very few rules about where you meet to prepare people for Gospel ministry. You may have preferences as I surely do, but your church’s culture and context should have the greatest influence on where this happens.
When we don’t consider culture and context we may find our small group ministry facing needless trouble. Here are 3 reasons why:
Lack of Clear Purpose
Ask yourself right now, what is the purpose of our small(er) groups? If you’re a leader in your church and can’t answer this fundamental question, then I would guess neither can those who attend.
Without a clear purpose that is clearly articulated, your church’s small groups will be aiming at nothing and in the end they might just accomplish that. Nothing.
And, even worse, without clearly communicated purpose from pastoral leadership, many groups will decide on their own purpose. Unfortunately, that purpose may even be in opposition to what the mission of your church is.
Chances are you know why small groups need to exist. Write out those reasons, then teach them plainly to your leaders and your congregation. Invest the time through training, mentorship and regular follow up so everyone is on the same page.
Lack of Contextualization
When I moved to New England and started serving in a local church, I had a burning desire to integrate small groups into homes. In my mind, the home would be the largest open door to our church.
I thought that after feeling welcomed into a home, people would feel more comfortable coming to our worship service. You can imagine my shock when we experienced quite the opposite. We often find that most people are more likely to come to our Sunday school or worship service first.
My mistake was assuming my new ministry context was just like the one where I grew up. In Northern Maine is a strong French Catholic presence. Many people feel much more “at home” in a worship service than in your living room.
For the people in this area, homes are seen as a safe place reserved primarily for very close friends or family. This doesn’t mean we’ve stopped welcoming people into our homes. We are still very much committed to home based small groups. In fact, this is where the majority of our ministry happens.
The biggest open door for our church has been on Sunday morning. The relationships built there allow us to integrate people into our homes throughout the week. In your ministry, the greatest entry point depends on your context and is often found through listening, learning, trial and error.
Lack of Multiplication
I often sound like a broken record when it comes to the M word, but the Bible speaks clearly about the purpose of the Church—to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, to multiply.
If anything in your church doesn’t have the Great Commission as its end goal, it will be missing the mark. Without discipleship and multiplication at the heart of your groups, they may have become clubs rather than one of your church’s most effective tools.
Just as you are actively identifying leaders who can carry on the ministry of the church, your small group leaders need to actively identify and train leaders in their groups to begin groups of their own.
Jesus sent you out and you in turn send others out who in turn send out yet others who can use their God-given gifts to expand His Kingdom in your community.