Note: this post is the twelfth entry of a series entitled, “Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church.”
Author: Paul Keating, Discipleship and Evangelism Pastor, First Baptist Church, Denham Springs.
“Life change happens best in circles, not in rows.”
Whoever coined this phrase understood the value of small groups and their importance in the discipleship of your church. He (or she) also understood a key dimension of how God created us—to be relational. Let’s do a quick thought experiment and break this statement down.
“Life change…” = Spiritual transformation/discipleship (hopefully good!)
“…happens best” = The most conducive environment (not the only environment)
“…in circles,” = Discussions, peer engagement, shared experiences, ability to interact and question
“…not in rows.” = Plenary speaking, lecture, non-interactive experiences
You may get the feeling that I am diminishing the value and importance of preaching—which I am not. Preaching has a vital role in the faith formation of your church. Jesus taught in large groups and small groups. Matthew details Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This sermon for the most part appears to be in a large group, lecture-type format. However, Jesus had countless encounters where He would sit down with His disciples and others at dinner, in the marketplace, and in all kinds of circumstances that were interactive and personal.
There’s a place and need for rows. The issue we have in churches today is not a problem with rows being diminished. The issue we have in churches today is a problem with circles not being valued enough.
Rick Warren has an illustration depicting five concentric circles he calls “The Levels of Commitment” of which all your church members, attendees, and prospects fall into a category. Starting from the inside and moving outward, he lists:
- Core (Leaders, without whom the church would not function)
- Committed (Workers, dedicated to serving and supporting)
- Congregation (Official members of your church)
- Crowd (People who show up… Seekers)
- Community (People in reach of your church)
Think of how your church moves individuals from the outside inward. If you want to move a person from any category into your core, are you going to be more effective by engaging them through events, productions, and worship services or in small groups? Events, productions, and services are important, but only get people to the table. Small groups are where your people will best experience life change that is continual and transformational.
Healthy small group ministries drive and sustain growth in churches.
At First Denham, our small group ministry sustained and reinvigorated our church to come back strong in the wake of COVID-19. Individuals who were connected to a small group were the first to return. Many individuals who solely attended worship have yet to come back. As we look at our continual growth since the COVID shutdown, it has been our small groups’ growth driving our worship attendance higher, demonstrating a tight correlation between the two.
What does this mean for your church?
Invest heavily into your small group ministry. Realize that relationships are vital to life transformation. Start new groups regularly. Train your small group leaders often. Celebrate small groups in your services. Pray continually for God to work in the lives of your members.