Andrew Hamilton | 98five blogger
Should churches still run small groups?
Obviously the answer is ‘yes’, because everyone does — and everyone can’t be wrong…right?
Or maybe it’s time to give ‘small groups’ away?
Maybe it’s time to rethink what we are trying to achieve and try some different mechanisms. I want to suggest one. Its called ‘making friends’.
For most churches, the purpose of small groups is connection and discipleship. People form stronger connections in these smaller groups than they do on Sunday, and in engagement with one another, the Bible and prayer there is some element of spiritual formation taking place. Sometimes they do those things well and other times they limp along.
And for the most part I think that is true.
For some, their small group is their lifeline, while others do not attend a group of any kind and live with that nagging sense of ‘ought’ gnawing at them — even though they don’t want to.
I am wondering if small groups operate on the basis of people being somewhat relationally incompetent? Maybe that’s overstating it, but I do wonder if we develop groups structures because people are not good at simply making friends.
Remember ‘making friends’?
I realise we want to go beyond just ‘making friends’ to having ‘soul/spiritual friends’, but I wonder if it’s time to put the onus back on individuals to make the significant connections. How often have I heard people moan about their small group not being ‘deep enough’, ‘Biblical enough’, ‘friendly enough’, whatever enough! And the small group simply becomes another aspect of our religious consumption.
What if we said ‘we don’t do small groups here — we do spiritual friendship (and, yes, we would need to unpack that) — so the onus is on you to make friends; to invite people around for a meal; open your life up (as appropriate) and form a friendship that doesn’t rely on a leader, a curriculum or an overseeing body. And it’s on you to sustain and nurture that relationship because that’s just what people do.
I wonder what would happen if we said ‘hey, you’re all adults — just do what adults do! Get on the phone to someone you’d like to know better and invite them over. Maybe invite a couple of people…’ Then see how it goes and if you connect well, then do it again.
I am 100 per cent convinced that in an age of individualism, a strong commitment to community is essential if we are to really be the church, but I wonder how much of that initiative needs to come from a structured approach and how much needs to be pushed back to the people who genuinely want spiritual friendships.
Those who don’t will never attend a small group anyway and often for those who do, a small group doesn’t come close to the depth of conversation needed to really be called spiritual formation or discipleship.
So I’m wondering, what would it look like if we said no small groups for 12 months, but just connect with people as you feel the need. It may be your need or their need.
The idealist in me sees this as a way of reforming imagination around this issue. The pragmatist in me says people will find it too hard and if they aren’t ‘forced’ into being part of a group they will lack any sense of greater connection.
The ‘pastor’ in me says what can it hurt to begin encouraging people back into intentional, meaty relationships that go beyond the trivial and inane and genuinely nurture faith for both parties?
Andrew is a part-time pastor, part-time retic bloke, full-time husband, dad and coffee snob (he’s also one of 98five’s 3 Minute Message pastors). He describes his blogs as unrefined, theological musings, random personal reflections and occasional naughtiness. backyardmissionary.com | Follow Andrew on Instagram
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