Small Groups Part 1

I am beginning my third year at a large, old, urban church where most of the members of my congregation live in neighborhoods very different from our “downtown” location.  We are a church that has stabilized our membership, attendance and other “reportables” for the last ten years.   As the Associate Pastor here one of the areas that fall under my responsibility is Small Group ministry.  This is also an area that when I arrived people (Staff Parish Relations) told me they would like to see strengthened;  and Holistic Small Groups was an area that was identified to be worked on in our last Natural Church Development survey.

I have been involved with small groups in the past and I know from first hand experience their value, I would probably not be where I am today had it not been for my first small group many years ago.  I also have learned that the term small group means many things to many people.  My goal has been to expand small group participation, after having immersed myself in the larger church community for this last two years.  The problem is as it was when I arrived is what does this look like and how do I move a congregation that is 125 years old in that direction?  Much to my dismay I have come to the conclusion that there is no magic pill that will allow this to happen.

I am going to define small groups in the most non-restrictive manner that I can.  By doing this it is my hope to offer opportunities for membership and fellowship to as many people as possible.  Also by defining in this manner, it will be easier for people to join different groups to meet different felt needs.   My working definition is as follows: A small group is any group that gathers on a regular schedule (at least twice a month), where fellowship, spiritual interaction and practical help are present in various forms and quantities depending on the group.  This definition may require some groups that are present in the church already to tweak how they operate to be considered a small group; while at the same time providing minimal “hoops to jump through” for a new group to form.

How does this definition fit your experience, and how could I better refine it for use in my situation?




5 thoughts on “Small Groups Part 1

  1. Angie

    I think it’s a very nice, broad definition. What I particularly like it that you are not limiting the scope of the group to a specific form – ie Bible study, fellowship, etc. A church needs many types of small groups in order to meet the needs of the congregation. My only question would be in the “small” part. By your definition, would Sunday morning worship be a small group? It is a group that gathers on a regular schedule. There is fellowship involved (some may argue that in worship it is a limited fellowship). There better be some spiritual interaction! And practical help is involved as much as there is in a Bible study or book study for some participants. I personally don’t consider worship a small group (at least not in the way it is done at St. John’s), but also don’t like putting limits on number of participants in different groups. Not sure that it requires a change in your definition. Just pondering.

  2. That is a very good point Angie. I do not consider our worship services small groups, we have had up to 500 in a worship service. However, there are some places that I have pastored that would qualify as small groups. Size is very important for my “image” of a small group. Can you worship in a small group? Since my definition is broad based and intended for my present context size does need to be addressed, but how? Nothing is ever as simple as it first seems, is it?

  3. Mike

    I think you could address the size issue while still keeping a broad definition by looking at interactions during the group. If there is a reasonable opportunity for all the members of a group to interact & share during a group meeting, then I would consider it “small.” If the members of the group do not have that opportunity during the meeting, then it is not “small” in my mind. This also brings time and format into the equation. One group may be a small group with 20 people because it is an open format that meets for two hours. Another group may have 20 people and meet for two hours, but be mostly lecture with only 15 minutes for discussion, and therefore not be eligible for “small” designation.

    In this way, you can also deal with the Sunday worship question. Depending on the format of the service and the size of the congregation, it may or may not be a small group.

  4. Joyce H

    A small group to me is meant to be a place to exchange thoughts, debate points etc. I agree with Mike that if it gets too large and doesn’t allow participants to interact, then it isn’t a small group.

  5. Marsha Findlay

    In my experience, a “small” group would tend to be under 20 participants, but I’m sure that varies with the size and scope of the congregation or conferences.
    Usually, people feel more at liberty to speak up in a small group setting than being one of many in a larger size gathering. It can certainly lend itself to intimacy, getting to know the other participants and continuing the fellowship after the group comes to the end of that particular study or mission.

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