The church talks a lot about the transformational power of community. The only problem is that the typical congregation struggles to deliver on its promise. The average church service isn’t set up to create or cultivate the kind of togetherness required for Christian unity or maturity. As Andy Stanley says, “Life change happens in circles, not rows.”
If you want your church to have a bigger impact—and experience more dramatic growth—it might be time to think smaller. When it comes to building a healthy and invigorated community that attracts visitors, church small groups are key.
1. Intimacy grows in church small groups
Trust is important for fostering deep, transparent relationships. This kind of trust is built when people spend regular focused time with others. It’s not the kind of thing that can be created in a sanctuary full of people on a Sunday morning.
A successful small group isn’t just a Bible study. It’s a collection of people who gather regularly to share their lives within the context of the Spirit and the Word. A small group stimulates something deeper than friendship. When done right, it creates a profound rapport and togetherness that a Sunday morning church service can never produce.
One of the greatest hungers of the human heart is the desire to experience true belonging. This is why Jesus holds up Christian love as the proof that we are his disciples (Jn. 13:35), and why his last priestly prayer is focused on our unity (Jn. 17). When people see true community, they’re drawn to it.
2. Ownership is fostered in church small groups
Following Jesus was never intended to be a spectator sport, but for many, that’s what church services are. When people attempt to go deeper, they end up in classes and studies which, while helpful, still keep them in “observer mode.”
A good small group requires involvement from everyone, which creates a sense of ownership. People become invested in their church’s mission and vision. As they experience the transforming power of community, they become invested in the church in dramatic ways. They’re turned into evangelists by the dramatic changes they see happening around them.
3. Gifts are used in church small groups
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Paul tells the church at Ephesus about the gifts that God has given to help them mature. If these gifts are not being used, growth isn’t happening.
Sprinkled throughout every congregation are people with pastoral gifts, but in the way churches are typically structured, they don’t have an opportunity to put those gifts to use. Small groups create opportunities for people to develop and employ their gifts.
Not only do small groups create a sense of ownership, but they also form a context where everyone discovers how they can contribute to church growth.
4. Leaders are identified and trained faster in church small groups
Imagine your church had four small groups, and the leaders of those four groups were tasked with training up a new leader for a new small group. Soon those four leaders become eight leaders. Small groups give you potential for exponential growth.
A small group allows for more transparency and accountability in people’s lives. Not only can a small-group leader recognize future leaders more easily, but they have a better chance of seeing how leadership training needs to be catered to each potential leader. They can see the pitfalls to be avoided and the areas where future leaders need encouragement and help. This creates stronger leaders in the long run.
When an emphasis on raising up future leaders becomes an important part of small-group-ministry, the potential for growth is staggering.
A church small group isn’t a program
With all the programs and classes available for churches, we need to be careful we don’t see small groups as another potential church program. Small groups represent the New Testament church model. Large gatherings of believers can be incredibly powerful when they’re celebrations of the life that’s happening in your home groups throughout the week.
Healthy small groups give your church dynamic potential for growth, without the need to find a bigger meeting place. There are always more homes where people can meet, and it’s a healthy, reproducible, and scalable model for church growth.
If you’re looking for more ideas for church growth, check out 5 Principles of Fast Church Growth, and discover what America’s fastest-growing churches are doing to create and sustain their immense growth.