Forgive me. I am guilty of thinking that small groups are the answer for most if not all of church woes. But I am starting to see that small groups is not a one-size-fits all solution.
Statistics indicate that few churches ever get more than a 30-35% participation rate in small groups. Some might think of this as a failure. But Joseph Myers in his book, The Search to Belong, indicates that many church leaders have wrongly assumed that small groups are the answer for most fringe Christians. Instead, he indicates that how people belong and grow is much more complex than many people realize. His book is a practical look at the issues behind building community in a culture that increasingly values belonging over believing.
Here are some of the things that I took from Joseph’s book.
Initial gatherings set the tone for how people will look at the group. Bad experiences cause people to pull away. Many people shy away from small groups because of bad experiences in the past. They think it either didn’t work or were hurt by someone betraying a confidence.
- Myers wrote, “A church of small groups? Sounded like forced relational hell to me.” – People have to want to be part of a small group.
- Time has little to do with a person’s ability to experience significant belonging. Many people click even after meeting for a short time. Others never do. Time is a factor, but it is not the only thing that makes a group work. Time by itself does not develop belonging.
- Greater levels of commitment may not make people feel more connected. It can actually do the opposite if people over commit or pledge loyalty out of a sense of duty. People may show up without their real heart being there.
- Proximity is more than just being geographically close to someone. People around the world can be close due to technology and a changing world. Proximity may be as much about openness and desire as anything else.
- Myers wrote, “I have often heard ministers say to their congregations, ‘We are glad that you are here. But if you really want to know what it is like to be part of our congregation, participate in a small group.’ The implication is that small groups are the best if not the only way to build authentic community. Almost every book that I have ever read on developing a successful church touts small groups as the key.”
- Small groups are only one tool in a kit full of ways to build community. Small groups are not a magic bullet, and Jesus is the key to building community.
- Larry Crabb once wrote, “The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense that we belong to each other with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow. Stale, irrelevant, a place of pretense, where sufferers suffer alone, where pressure generates conformity rather than the Spirit creating life – that’s where the church is headed unless it focuses on community.”
- Myers wrote, “Announcing programs that promise intimacy to every person within reach creates unrealistic expectations. Worse, it actually pushes those who are not ready for such relationships farther away.” – The answer: Be realistic and disarm unnecessary concerns.
- Larry Crabb said, “Maybe ‘going to church’ more than anything else means relating to several people in your life differently.”