Small groups where people develop their faith have been the bedrock of Methodism. We began not as churches but as a movement of small groups.
Today less than half of our churches have small groups. Why? One reason is that we are too busy in committee meetings. I experienced this recently when I was told that a church with which I was working did have small groups-they were called the Trustees, SPRC and the Ad Council. I smiled. Committees can certainly be places for community, but their focus on running the church and this is fundamentally different from small groups whose work is to grow people.
I’d love to move back to a small group model, but how? Those who are working to address this are finding it isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. So what is working, especially in non-suburban contexts?
I have thought about this and one of my key takeaways from this fall’s COR Leadership Conference is around small groups.
At Church of the Resurrection, Rev. Scott Chrostek shared how they have tweaked small groups on their campus (Downtown). They use a Community Group model which is a feeder to a more in-depth small group experience.
Here is how it works: Every two weeks a new entry point (Community Group) is offered. This could be a one-time event or a 4-week course. The topics are taught by laity who are excited to share what they know. Past examples have included: The Enneagram, Parenting Teens, Living a Health Lifestyle, etc. These Community Groups offer a fun, interesting and limited way to connect and learn.
The benefit? If you are new to the church, you are never more than a week away from another group. This enables people to get connected and find friends early. It takes seriously that when people first attend, they are looking to get connected.
At the end of the Community group, small groups are offered. These follow a set curriculum (for the first 6 weeks) but then move into more age-level, interest area, materials. You could join one with your new Community group friends, attend another Community group (maybe you aren’t ready for a small group or don’t connect with those in your group). Either way, new comers are meeting new people, learning and getting connected. And, Community Groups aren’t just for learning, they can be a service opportunity as well.
Scott shared that they had tried other models (like putting people in small groups right away) but that didn’t work. He also shared that this was a model that reflected their being about 200 in worship but that it could be adapted (for example, you could start a Community Group model every month or every 3 weeks). And, since the groups are lay-led this model has the added benefit of growing leadership and connecting new people to laity and not only clergy.
If you are looking to begin small groups this fall, you might want to start with the Community Group model and see if it works for you.
Next Week: Helping new Christians (and others) grow in their understanding of the Bible.