small groups

Does Small Group Work?

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone7 Comments

Small Group: The (not-so) New Bible Study?

They say only about 12 people can really enjoy meaningful community together in an effective way. Welcome to Small Group.

If you haven’t noticed, church is getting smaller. Small Group has become an integral part of the American Church landscape. We’ve taken our cue from Jesus and his selecting of  twelve disciples to “live with” as He went about his ministry. It’s a worthy model. Those twelve went on to change the world.

But personally, I think the way we’ve done Small Group creates an interesting conundrum for the developing Christian. I wonder if small group (or LifeGroups, or whatever) is designed to promote spiritual growth through studying the Bible or by creating a forum permitting  us to publicly struggle with the way God’s Word and our lives intersect. In other words, are small groups just glorified Sunday School classes, or are they more like support groups where we all share our failings and seek guidance and help from each other?

I’d say the former is the easiest, and most common version of small groups. In the name of being “biblically-based,” most groups start and end with some form of Bible study which may or may not have people there who know what they are talking about. Of course, the other extreme is the overly social group that downplays any sort of spirituality in the name of ‘being friends.’

So which is it? Should small group nurture our spiritual selves through Bible study, or through personal relationships?

If through Bible study, then I think that creates a scary proposition. Frankly, even Jesus had a hard time getting his twelve to understand what He was talking about. On countless occasions the disciples reveal how out of step they are with Jesus’ teachings, which is  amazing when you consider they lived with Him pretty much 24/7. If those are Jesus’ results, then what do we really think we will accomplish with our 2.5 hours a week?

Bible Study, Social Club, or Both

Listen, I’m not discouraging the idea of small group. I just want to know what we intend it to accomplish with it. What do we want our 2.5 hours a week to really be about?

We currently attempt to create relational intimacy and biblical teaching, which is a worthy, if not lofty, goal. But often, the experience is out of balance. Most people need both in significant measure. Piece-mealing these two ideas in compartmental increments only makes us more thirsty for the real thing. Giving a thirsty man a drop of water will only make him more thirsty!

The next generation (and even the generation before) really wants to talk candidly about the problems they have in life, and the questions and doubts they have about the Bible and Christianity. They both want to explore the realities and challenges of the Christian life through relationships and social interaction, and to explore the details and intricacies of God’s Word.

Is small group the sole answer to these desires? Maybe not in its current form.

Some churches have totally released extra-Sunday-Morning-service spiritual development to the function of small groups. In those churches, Sunday Schools and Bible studies are nowhere to be found.  I’m aware of the historically low attendance to traditional Bible Study and Sunday school. In that sense, at least Small Group gets people in the room with a Bible in their hand a second time of the week. I get that.

But I wonder if a concentrated Bible study is not worth re-igniting. Can’t we do both Bible Study and LifeGroup? Are the 20, in the typical 80/20 argument (where only 20% of the church actually come to Bible Study and Sunday School) still worth it? Can we get creative about how to make Bible Study more accessible, with all of our social media, video, audio and other such resources?

I say we can. I think true Bible study deserves  separate time with a qualified teacher. I think considering the two together creates an interesting opportunity to get creative about spreading the gospel. Doing so might free LifeGroups to take on a more relational role. I think LifeGroup, and “living with each other” reaches beyond the Bible Study aspect. Beyond, even, the periodic service opportunities. Small group has the potential to really allow for the grey area of struggle and doubt to surface and be collectively dealt with by Christian friends and family.  Papa said, “Do one thing, and do it well.” I have not yet taken this advice in my own life (but I’m working on it), but it’s a good idea to frame the idea of Small Group around.

So tell me your small group/lifegroup stories. The trials and the triumphs. Do you feel a church should have both Bible Study and Small Groups?  Why?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
7 comments
ajwalker65
ajwalker65

I may be the only one who disagrees with you here. I have attended small groups but honestly prefer a weekly church wide Bible Study and Sunday School. Let the "Life Groups" be formed around relational ties. My church has completely abandoned a church wide weekly Bible Study for small groups. There is, except for Sunday (of course) no opportunity for the body to come together for "small groups" to form spontaneously. Small groups always felt stiff to me. Everyone trying to be "spiritually profound" for that hour or so and not being fully themselves. A forced situation more than one that develops as it sounds like the small groups in Acts were "organized." It always seemed to me the early church met around friendships and familial structures, where people were already connected in some sense and new people were being grafted in based on some sense of shared camaraderie. It's just my two cents but I'd prefer an honest to goodness church wide Bible Study to dozens of small groups all over the place. 

R. Brad White
R. Brad White

Antwuan, remember a while back when you and I talked about my nonprofit Changing the Face of Christianity? (http://www.changingthefaceofchristianity.com). Our mission is to reverse negative Christian stereotypes by helping Christians be more like Jesus Christ. We've identified that small groups are a crucial part of our long term strategy. We've developed a small group platform/model that addresses the questions and problems you've raised. You and your readers can contact me at brad@changingthefaceofchristianity.com for a PPT that explains it in more detail...but here is a summary: It's about living our faith...not just studying it. For a group that meets weekly, each week focuses on a different element of our spiritual lives. Week 1: Bible study and discussion, Week 2: Service (get out and DO the word), Week 3: Prayer, Praise, Worship (focus completely on God and what he is doing in our lives), and Week 4: Fellowship (just getting together and having fun, enjoying life together as a group). We've have several groups using the model and it's been a HUGE success. We've got other things in the works too. We should get together again and chat. :-)

Pelumi Kayode
Pelumi Kayode

 I believe small groups do work. This is my story: In my school church school, between the workers there is a sort of mutual understanding between everyone, were kinda like brothers and sisters, people always asking for other people, joint group prayers for particular people, plus the open discussions we have based on issues of mutual respect and love. All these coupled with the idea of what true work is, is what I believe has helped the workers in my church oh let me not forget, lots of prayers coupled with God's grace.

Gbarotta
Gbarotta

I have some strong feelings about small groups that are more appropriately shared over coffee. Let's just say we are mostly in agreement. But our actual experiences may be different

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

 Yes. Let's.  I'd love to get some food or something over lunch. Glad to hear things are going so well.

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

So your church does do small groups and bible study, or just small groups?

Antwuan Malone
Antwuan Malone

 Yeah, I think we've shared a little bit on this topic before...