Are Small Groups Just for White People?
Why don't more ethnic churches have a small groups ministry?

I came across an interesting interview in the recent issue of Leadership Journal. The subjects of the interview were from River City Community Church—a multi-ethnic ministry located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. Leadership talked with Daniel Hill, who founded the ministry, along with several key leaders of the church.

Here's a brief excerpt of their conversation:

What kind of person is attracted to River City?

Hill: Most of our new people are white. But there's a revolving door with the white community here. They have a romantic notion of being part of a multi-ethnic church, so many of them get frustrated and leave when they realize how difficult it is to erase their assumptions about the way church is supposed to be.

What assumptions do white people carry into the church?

Arloa Sutter (pastor of community life): When I came I said, "Let's just start small groups! Everyone wants to be in a group, right?" The fact is small groups aren't as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people.

Small groups are a white church thing?

Hill: White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically, more relationally. Immigrant communities find fellowship within extended families. In the city a lot of community happens on the front porch or sidewalk. So non-whites aren't as eager to set up structures and systems like small groups.

Carlos Ruiz (coordinator of community groups): I think whites really value efficiency.

Antoine Taylor (director of Sunday morning ministries): And releasing that value is really hard for a lot of them. They perceive other ways of operating as inefficient or disorganized.

Jennifer Idoma-Motzko (elder): They say it's not the right way to do church. And I respond bluntly by saying, "You mean it's not the white way to do church."

Obviously, there are some pretty strong statements there, and they raise several important questions:

1. Are small groups primarily a "white" way to do church?

2. If we assume that non-white ethnicities connect more easily and organically than whites, does that mean small groups have no use in those communities? Or can they be a supplement to those organic connections?

3. Are small groups really about efficiency? Is that the appeal they bring to churches, whether white or otherwise?

I've got some thoughts on these questions, but I would really like to hear what all of you think before I let loose.

You can read the full interview with the leaders of River City Community Church in Aug/Sep issue of our digizine, Catalyst Leadership.

October 30, 2009

Displaying 1–10 of 45 comments

CasonDion C.

March 04, 2011  3:21am

Objective or subjective question? " Non-Hispanic white" individuals, according to the Census, will soon be the minority in the United States. Scholarships for this brand new minority are already being offered. The Former Majority Association for Equality gathered together a nonprofit status past year to address this need. The scholarship is offered for a relatively large subset of individuals. A 3.0 GPA and one-quarter Caucasian lineage is needed.

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November 11, 2009  6:41am

Hello This is very good post about white people and church.Its very interesting conversation which you have given.Thank you for sharing this with us.

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Eric Lewis

November 09, 2009  10:43am

Mae, I agree with you that "whites" should not be troubled about conversations on race. However, nothing can be accomplished when the one group who is at "fault" is pushed away from the table and relegated to, "now you know how it feels."(not your quote, but someone else's) That is so counter productive. My point is why refer to others as "white," or "black?" I agree I should never forget, as to commit the same atrocities. But am I complicit in the oppression based on the color of my skin? I am not. I am complicit where I fail, not where my ancestors failed. Are all muslims "extremeist"(and therefore bad), just because one guy shoots up a bunch of american soldiers? I say, "no." Trust me when I say that I am different from some of my extended family. And for that I am thankful! Eric Lewis, an Anglo-american

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Eric Lewis

November 09, 2009  10:06am

Wayne, Thanks, for highlighting my point, once again, so brilliantly. Nope, I don't feel oppressed. Never said it! Never felt it! And never have oppressed anyone either. I live in a diverse neighborhood and am friends with my nieghbors. Have been in their homes and they have been in mine. From the hispanic families that walk their children down the street, to the young African-American guys walking by, I always acknowledge their presence by being kind to them and having conversations with them if the opportunity arises. I don't "happlessly stand by." I am also known as the guy who gives stuff away. One really cool thing happened is that one kid came up and asked if we(my wife and I) were Christians because we continually give stuff away to others in our neighborhood. That was cool... Your generalization that by being "white" I am complicit in the wrongs of the past, is a reflection of the same mindset that says, "all black men are thieves," or "all mexicans are drunks," or "small groups are a white thing." The only generalization that I feel is worth repeating is, "All generalizations suck!" And my point in all this, is that I truly hope the answer to past oppression is not merely to marginalize or oppress one group because of their skin color or the mistakes of their ancestors. The church must have a better answer than that. At least I hope it does. Eric, an Anglo-american

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Jason Coker

November 08, 2009  1:30pm

I'm calling B.S. on this. First, I don't agree this is a racially-motivated comment. This is pure political cheap-shotting at its worst; there's no better way these days, among certain groups, to villify others methods than to characterize those methods as "white." It's a red herring, plain and simple. Second, small groups - also known as "cell groups" and "house churches" in other areas of the globe (ever heard of those?) - are on-fire in places like Latin America, Asia, and, yes, even Africa. I personally know Brazilians near the mouth of the Amazon who literally travel miles on foot and by boat multiple times per week just to attend their cell group. Third, since when is it more "efficient" to stick one or two teachers in a room with 10 or 20 people? That's just plain old shameless spin-doctoring. The true slave to Modern efficiency is one dynamic preacher standing in front of 1000 or 2000 at a time. Better yet, transmit their digitized image into a half dozen other sanctuaries. Best of all: transmit their image into a million homes. 1 to a THAT's an efficient ratio!

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Mae Cannon

November 07, 2009  6:42pm

Community is certainly a biblical principle. The idea of a small group of people doing life together is common throughout the Scriptures. Consider Jesus and the 12 disciples - they were certainly a small group of sorts! Harvey Carey, an African American pastor in Detroit, Michigan has taught on this very topic. He suggests that small groups tend to look different in churches of color than in primarily white contexts. In the African American church, groups that gather around common affinities (such as the choir) often function as small groups living in community together. They might not be called "small groups" but they serve the same function. As a white female pastor - I must say I find it deeply disconcerting that whites are still troubled by conversations around race. The reality of the 21st century church is that whites have experienced significant privilege and advantages based on the oppression of people of color. This is a part of our heritage and identity and it is important that we not forget, but rather respond with humble spirits, repenting of our contributions, and seeking reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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November 06, 2009  8:11pm

Mo: Nice thoughts. "However, these are not the fundamental rational for small groups. They do not define how we do small groups. Scripture does." "Small groups" is the sociological term for institutional church forms seeking something more relational than pulpit and pew. Scripture talks in terms of "one another". Of course this is a small group. You can't do this in a crowd. The significance lies not just in the size of the group, but more importantly in the depth, transparency, and mutuality of the communication. Another key factor is in the preparation for the communication in advance of the meeting. Off the cuff habits are shallow.

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November 05, 2009  12:49am

Hi folks! I was recently at a gathering of pastors in Victoria, BC (just a "small group" of us) to hear Pastor Johnson Samuel from Mumbai. His church has grown through the last decade to a size of 86,000. Guess how? Through their 7,800 house groups meeting in 860 worship centres around that great city. It was a remarkable and hopeful experience to hear Pastor Samuel tell the story. Do I need to point out that Pastor Samuel is not white? I think I have some evidence here that supports this conclusion to your original question (Are small groups primarily a "white" way to do church?): No. Cheers! Mark (just another Canadian's two bits, eh!)

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Wayne Park

November 04, 2009  10:43pm

Weighing in here a bit late against some of the "white man" defensiveness comments. So all of a sudden you feel like an oppressed minority? Welcome welcome. Now maybe you understnad. There's a reason for the push / back against caucasian forms of doing church, a reason why we are driven at times to be the "angry asian man" or the "angry black man" or whatever. Offended by this article? Get a grip. minorities have been "offended" for ages now while the white Christian stood haplessly by, complicit.

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November 04, 2009  12:07pm

Eric Lewis, Appreciate your sentiments. However, I'll say that RELEVANCE is not something coined by men, but by God. Reading scripture, it is obvious that God is always RELEVANT - not just that he states things on His terms, but that He does it according to the need of the moment. The question is not whether we should be relevant, but HOW we seek to be relevant. Just because a significant portion of the Church seeks relevance by sociologically driven priorities, it does not mean that the concept of RELEVANCE is irrelevant. Misapplication of relevance is no knock on relevance, but the WAY we think about relevance. We must always seek to be RELEVANT - but be driven Biblically in our understanding of HOW to be relevant. It's unfortunate when that we take a great truth arising from the life breathing Creator, and then misapply it. Blessings, Mo

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