In most churches that I’ve encountered, usually about half of the people are in mid-week small groups and the other half are not.
This is due to a whole range of reasons of course. Perhaps life was so busy that it felt too difficult to fit it into the diary. Maybe the ones they used to be in were rubbish, so they left.
Either way, we are now at an important crossroads. Are we happy for people to simply consume Sunday service online or do we encourage people to join a small group and go deeper into community and discipleship? If we can do the latter, I believe it will dramatically shift the way we are church once everything goes back to ‘normal’.
The Methodist church grew rapidly in the USA between the years of 1815-1850. It was full-on discipleship and you had to be a member of a small group in order to be a member. You couldn’t just come along on a Sunday. They planted over 700 churches per year between 1815-1850. But in 1850 they made a decision to change that so that you could just be a member by Sunday attendance. This was mainly to placate the wealthy and the busy who didn’t want to do the mid-week group. In less than a decade, the growth of the Methodist church in the USA had stopped and it went into decline. There were other factors involved in this of course! But this decision was critical. To find out more, read this book by Winfield Bevins.
If we want to see growth in our churches, both in number and depth of discipleship, we need to put our energy into small groups. In times of revival, it has been the small group systems that have sustained the new life. It’s been said that planting small groups and churches as is like breeding rabbits and elephants. Both are possible but one takes a lot longer than the other! We are now in a season where we need to move quickly. We can’t wait for an 18 month gestation for a massive church plant (which is totally valid method as well!), we need to plant small groups.
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My other reflections on why small groups are so crucial right now are: