Simply put: small groups allow interaction and building of relationships that cannot exist in the large group setting of worship.
Small groups are simply smaller groups of people (typically 12 or less) that gather together to accomplish some specific purpose. In the church, these purposes generally include worship, prayer, ministry, outreach, study, or fellowship.
Many people put their own definition of small groups into the word “small group.” They may think it is a home Bible study, a time of fellowship, a group that doesn’t meet on Sunday, or a group that is like a little church. None of these things are necessary to the concept of small groups.
When you realize that a small group is a just a small group of people gathering together for a specific purpose, then you realize that every church has small groups. Sometimes they call them Sunday schools. Sometimes they call them boards. Sometimes they call them committees. Sometimes they call them Bible studies. But all of them are small groups.
The universality of small groups in churches demonstrates that virtually all Christians believe that small groups are necessary for the health of the local church. There is a level of discipleship that requires a more intimate group, and ministry is best organized by a small group of people.
So, the question is not really whether or not you will have small groups. The question is whether you are using your small groups to their full potential.
So, how can we do them better?
There are many spiritual graces that contribute to good small groups: humility, prayer, courage, and hope.
However, simple practical wisdom is also important for running small groups. My dear friend Art Stump has written a helpful article on meetings (one form of small group), “How Not to Bore People to Death with a Meeting.” Most of the insights there apply to running a small group as well.
Let me suggest two important ways that we can make our small groups better.
First, get everyone involved. The strength of a small group is that everyone can contribute. So, get everyone involved.
We have all been to meetings (and maybe led meetings) where the leader of the group thinks he’s figured everything out. He or she goes on and on about what they are going to do and then simply asks people to agree.
This can make a small group worse than one person deciding everything on their own. A small group dominated by one person gives people the false impression of a consensus that doesn’t actually exist. It gives outward assent without a commitment of the will.
In whatever way you do it, get people involved in the discussion. That doesn’t mean that there can be no teaching time, but allowing people to share their thoughts will make everyone feel that they are a part of the group and have a stake in it.
Second, use your small groups to build relationships. Small groups provide a unique context in which people can connect and build relationships.
As I think of my own church, the people I have met with regularly are those to whom I feel closest. Every time I’ve come to the end of a small group, I’ve felt much closer to the people who were involved. Those connections stay with me, even when the group no longer meets.
One reason we forget that small groups are about relationships is because small groups are also about doing some sort of task. It’s easy to get focused on the task and forget the people (we can also make the mistake of enjoying the people and forgetting the task!).
Small groups provide such great opportunities to build relationships that we should not let that opportunity pass by. In every small group setting, we can add something that will help us connect. We can have refreshments, share a meal, share something about ourselves briefly, have one person share what they are learning, or pray in smaller groups. All of these things help build relationships.
Every church has small groups of some sort. These are essential to the ministry of our local churches. As leaders, we should work to make our small groups more effective in accomplishing what they can do best: building relationships that can help us grow in Christ.