It seems like small groups are everywhere. And churches that have a recognized small group ministry are becoming more the standard than the exception. Why is that? What’s going on?
As director of smallgroups.com, I had a lot of contact with churches that were neck deep in the small group movement. My job revolved around helping pastors and small group leaders keep their small groups active and healthy. So I got a lot of feedback about what’s driving the rise of small group ministry.
There are definitely many dynamics involved in the small group movement, but I’ve noticed a common thread. And that is the strong desire people have to experience genuine community. People are seeing the need for a kind of community that’s really missing in our information age culture. There are a lot of broken lives and a lot of dysfunction in traditional relationships and the family so the whole idea of bringing the New Testament community back into the church is something people see and feel they need.
I witnessed this phenomenon first hand in my own church. As the church grew to a point where it was impossible to know everyone, people began to feel disconnected. That’s when someone suggested we give small groups a try. Many responded with great enthusiasm. It wasn’t difficult to get people involved, but after a while, the “honeymoon phase” wore off. One the congregation got into community with each other, they began to realize, “I liked you better when I didn’t know you as well.” But just as in marriage, many soon realized they needed to be committed to the building of community whether they always like it or not.
The interesting thing that happened through it all was that in the process of getting people into small groups, a value was raised up. People began to realize that relational ministry makes a difference. And that kind of ministry is more than just showing up on Sunday morning or doing nursery duty.
My church’s experience is definitely not unique. It’s a common story I hear. As churches venture into small group ministry, they uncover the richness of and the great need for genuine relationships. What’s more, many people begin to view their small community as the heart and essence of what they feel church is like for them. I think that’s because many small groups are incorporating a lot of elements of what the New Testament describes as church, especially in the area of relationships with one another.
Building true community isn’t always an easy process. I learned that with my church family. But I believe it’s what followers of Christ are called to do- to live life together. That’s the model of the New Testament. And even if it is difficult, following Christ is the most incredible thing we can do in life. But the deeper we get into it, the more we have to rely on Him to do it.