If we want our churches to be healthy, we will be intentional and strategic in the development and cultivation of a multiplying network of small groups that bind the church together.
As we see it, all groups can have three functions: a connection function, a formation function, and a mission function. And for small groups to be successful, they must have qualified leaders whose skill sets have been matched to the purpose of the group.
Small Groups Matter… A Lot
If I had to write out a thesis statement for small groups in the life of your church it would be this: There should be no ministry in your church more important than small groups. Nothing. And notice how I worded that. When it comes to the organization of your church, there should be nothing more important than small groups.
I didn't say "small groups" were the most important thing. But there shouldn't be any one thing that is more important in the life of the church as an organization or body, especially if you're in a large gathering setting.
Nothing Should Detract From Small Groups
Let's give an example. Everyone has a passion for something. These passions lead to the development of ministries in the life of a church around particular interests or needs. When Promise Keepers came along, they filled a need, a need for men's ministry.
Pretty soon churches realized they needed ministries focused on the men. Some had Promise Keepers groups in their churches. Some began other kinds of ministries wrapped around the interests of men.
This is a good thing. Churches with programs aimed at the discipleship and spiritual formation of men are serving the whole body in a positive way. They are strengthening families, training men as leaders in the home as well as in the church. But, if men’s ministry gets really, really big in your church and begins to detract from small groups’ ministry, you should probably restructure men’s ministry in a way that it won’t.
I'd say this about any other single ministry of the church. No single ministry should be more important to your church than small groups. Healthy churches are sustained and expanded through small groups. No other single ministry can say this in the life of the body. Small groups—as a function, as a priority—sit at the very heart of church community.
An Example From Grace Church
I'll use my own church, Grace Church, as an example of how this can play out in the life of the church. We call our community groups “LIFE groups.” In our membership covenant, you have to commit to being in a LIFE group. Yes, a requirement for being in membership in the life of our church is a commitment to being part of a LIFE group. It starts with leadership. We model church life for our members. All of our staff must be in a LIFE group.
We are not perfect, but we spend time and effort to regularly communicate about LIFE groups. We highlight LIFE groups during Sunday morning services, our “prime time." If you came to our church, you would have no choice but to make the conclusion that LIFE groups are essential to us, and if you’re going to be here with us and choose to participate with us in gospel community, LIFE groups should be essential to you.
How Important Are Small Groups to Your Church?
So now here's the question I would ask you: is what I've outlined above the perception people have when they show up at your church? If someone shows up at your church on Sunday morning, and you have two or three things you're going to highlight about your church during the service, does small groups consistently, week in and week out, make that list?
There are a lot of things you can say about your church. There are a lot of activities in the coming week you can highlight. Does small groups occupy a prominent place in the highlights?
Would people who come to your church come to the conclusion that small groups are a non-negotiable in the life of your church? Or would they come to the conclusion that other things are indispensable?
What's interesting about posing the question this way is that often we think of the indispensables as biblical preaching, God-centered worship, and kids ministry. Those things are important, but more often than not, those things are why most people are already in the Sunday morning service. Churches excel in these areas.
But small groups are one area many people are not experiencing in the life of the church. Transformational small groups need to be elevated in the consciousness of your church in order for them to be effective in the community of your church.
Make sure you hear me correctly. I'm talking about the ministries and programs of your church as an organization. Those activities and functions your church carries out in fulfilling its biblical obligations, especially regarding discipleship and spiritual formation. I'm not saying small groups are more important than doctrine. I'm not saying small groups are more important than the proclamation of the Word or the affirmation of the gospel.
This is simply about organization.
The emphasis of transformational small groups in your church will lead to the entire congregation engaging with each other at a higher level and ultimately to more spiritual growth. If you want to encourage your church toward unparalleled growth in Christ-likeness and making a difference in mission, raise the level of awareness and importance of small groups.
Nothing in your church should be more important than transformational small groups.
If you’d like to explore more in depth about the role of small groups in the life of the church, my colleague Eric Geiger and I have published a helpful book, Transformational Groups: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
So let’s entertain the question here: Would people who come to your church come to the conclusion that small groups are a non-negotiable in the life of your church?