Are small groups the answer or just another timesink?

26 05 2008

In the sermon yesterday Bob stated quite emphatically that living a life in contrast to our surrounding culture was critical if we are going to advance the gospel in our community. When I hear and read that type of statement two thoughts come to mind: 1) That is absolutely true, and 2) I don’t know how to do that and if I did I’m not sure I much want to.

The good new is we now have the answer – small groups! All we have to do is have a focus on small groups and living out “the way” part of John 14:6 will happen – we will live a life in contrast to our culture. If it were only that simple. 

M. Scott Boren has been assisting churches with small group ministries for many years. In the Introduction to his book title The Relational Way he has the following observations regarding small groups:

As I dialog with pastors and church leaders across North America, I hear many stories that resemble that of my own. They read a book, attend a conference, or start a 40-day small-group campaign. The conclusion usually is, we need small groups to generate community. The leaders imagine that a small-group structure will address the challenges that churches face in the midst of the fast-food culture.

However, more often than not, the groups serve as another structure for attracting people to another spiritual meeting. This spiritual meeting is forced to compete with all the other spiritual offerings on the market. While looking upon the landscape of small-group experiments over the last few decades in North America, one pastor has observed, “Small groups simply became a part of an individual’s personal ‘do-it-yourself’ religion that reinforced ‘individualized faith.'”

I have been helping churches develop small group systems since the early 1990s. Throughout these years, I have observed churches that have experimented with many different small-group models. Some have failed while others have entered into the land of great success. Most have wandered in the land of mediocrity, searching for ways to develop their groups. The difference between success and failure doesn’t correlate with a particular model or specific structure. In fact, one church could copy the exact structure and procedures that another church used successfully with drastically different results. If the structure was not the key to success, what was? If small groups alone did not help a church enter into a radical lifestyle for God’s kingdom, what did?

The foundational question, then, is not “How do we create more small groups?” or “How do we grow the church through small groups?” or “What model of small groups works the best?” These are structural questions and you must learn to ask contrary questions about being a church on The Way: “How do we become a people that live in community that stands in contrast to the social structures of this world?” or “What are the practices of a people on the way with God?” or “What ways of living would manifest in being a church on mission with God?”

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One response

27 05 2008
lrac1

I don’t think that any of us believe that a new program of small groups is THE solution to every problem that Wildwood has. But it will help if the congregation sees the leadership of the church seeking to minister to them through the small groups. It can’t hurt anything if we focus on equipping existing and new small group leaders to build up the members of their group in Christ. It will be a good thing if groups within WIldwood begin to reflect the vision that we have for the church as reflected in our mission statement. And if through the example from leaders, the encouragement from the pulpit, and the training from the ministry team, our groups and our congregation become more focused on living out the radical gospel that Jesus taught, then maybe we will start to see some bridges built and some lives changed. Maybe we’ll even be missional.

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