The problem is that as a church we are not encouraging or fostering that to happen—simply because we don’t have a structure in place for it to happen. Our structure currently consists of one large group that meets on Sunday morning for worship and then four middle sized groups that meet on Sunday evening, Wednesday evening and then two on Sunday morning. Do you see the issue with this? I hope you see a little more why we tried to have the four small groups that each of you led last year; and why I am going to continue pushing so hard for us to create and live within the context of a small group ministry for the church. People need the benefits that a small group dynamic offers. Otherwise we are living the Christian life without all of the benefits of the Christian community.
Before I list out the ten fundamental reasons for small groups I want to touch on one more paradigm that will be helpful—it has to do with the generational peculiarities. Here is a list of the existing generations, their dates of birth and the approximate number of births for that generation.
G.I. Generation 1904-1924 59.6 million
Silent Generation 1925-1945 55.4 million
Boomer Generation 1946-1964 75.9 million
Generation X 1965-1979 51.5 million
Millennial Generation 1980-2000 77.9 million
As with any list of dates, there is some fluidity involved. For instance, I was born in 1978, but in terms of characteristics I would probably fit in more to the Millennials. Notice which generation you fit into. As we walk through a brief description of each of them, see if that fits your characteristics and experience. As we go through these I will use myself and my parents as illustrations.
The G.I. Generation was greatly affected by two major events: the Great Depression and World War II; with the latter event giving this generation their name. For most of their lives, the GI Generation benefitted from an expanding economy, rising real estate values, and generous government programs. Interestingly though, their wealth did not depend on the government programs or even their education—it was because of their rigid work ethic and conservative nature. They had either seen or heard first-hand of the devastating effects of the Great Depression. They were greatly influenced by this. A high school diploma was sufficient to find a well paying, secure job with good benefits in their early years. Because they typically had a lower level education than successor generations, their perspectives on life tended to be shaped differently from the younger population.
The Silent Generation was born from 1925 to 1945. They have been called the Silent Generation because so few of its members held high-profile business or political positions at the time of its naming. For example, no U.S. President has ever come from this generation. Eventually many researchers began changing their name to the Swing Generation because they were caught between two potent and influential generations. Some in this generation swing towards the more casual lifestyle of the Boomers; while the majority swung towards the more conservative perspectives of their G.I. Generation elders. For the majority who swung towards, and were influenced by, their elder G.I.’s, they are extremely conservative—religiously, socially, fiscally and usually politically as well. They greatly value consistency and generally dislike change.
The Baby Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964. Until the Millennials, this was the largest generation in America’s history. In many ways, the Boomers are the most discussed, most marketed and most debated generation ever. Their sheer size caught the attention of businesses, schools, the media, churches, and other organizations for decades. The majority of the Boomers were raised by stay-at-home mothers who were younger than mothers with children at home today. They are the Woodstock and Vietnam generation that believed their way was the way. In the 1960s the Boomers were countercultural and antiauthoritarian. That self-centered independent spirit became a self-centered, materialistic spirit in the 1980s; and it carried over to churches. Many of the mega-churches that were begun in the 1970s and 80s (i.e. Saddleback in Los Angeles and Willow Creek in Chicago) were founded by Boomers and marketed to Boomers. Take for example the largest church in the U.S., Lakewood Church in Houston that is led by Joel Osteen (a Generation X’er) and founded by his father (a member of the Silent Generation). As much as any other church, Lakewood markets itself to the Boomer generation. Next time you happen upon him preaching on television, take a moment and notice the crowd. They are all older Gen Xers and Boomers. It’s no coincidence that Osteen has grown his fathers’ church to over 40,000 members by preaching a “prosperity gospel.” He has successfully appealed to the materialistic and selfish nature of the Boomer generation.
Next is Generation X. They were originally called the Buster Generation because of the dramatic decline in live births from their predecessor generation. The label, Generation X or Gen X, came from a novel by Douglas Coupland. Generation Xers have cultural perspectives and political experiences that were shaped by a series of events. These include the election of Ronald Reagan, the 1984 Summer Olympics, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the election of George H.W. Bush, the launch of the Hubble Telescope, the savings and loan crisis, the election of Bill Clinton and the 1990s economic boom. Generation X experienced the introduction of the personal computer, the start of the video game era, cable television and the Internet. Other events include the AIDS epidemic, the War on Drugs, the Iran hostage crisis, the Persian Gulf War, the Dot-com bubble. They are often called the MTV Generation.
In the preface to Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, Professor Christine Henseler summarized it as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all.” When compared with previous generations, Gen X represents a more heterogeneous generation, exhibiting great variety of diversity in such aspects as race, class, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Change is more the rule for the people of Generation X than the exception. Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with intent to replace them, Gen Xers tend to ignore leaders and work for more long term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. The U.S. Census Bureau cites Generation X as highly educated, statistically holding the highest education levels when looking at current generations. Finally, this generation is waiting to have children longer than any previous generation. When there are two parents at home, they generally both pursue careers at the expense of family; which is one of the reasons that divorce is so high among this generation. Simply put, this generation is extremely lonely and searching for community and a place to belong.
The most recent generation to be “closed off” is the Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y). The Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. They have grown up in a society that is very different than any group before them. They have been plugged into technology since they were babies, are the most scheduled generation ever, are true multi-taskers, expect to have 6-8 careers in their lifetime and are attracted to diverse environments. They are starting out as the most politically progressive age group in modern history. In the 2008 election, Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 66%-32%, while adults ages 30 and over split their votes 50%-49%. In the four decades since the development of Election Day exit polling, this is the largest gap ever seen in a presidential election between the votes of those under and over age 30. They are the first generation in human history who regards things like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding. They are the least religious group since survey research began charting religious behavior. They are on track to becoming the most educated generation in history. Finally, they are similar to their predecessor generation in that they value community and are highly relational.
Well, that’s a lot of information for just talking about small groups at church. Here’s why it’s important . . . the G.I. generation members have for the most part died. The Silent Generation is well into their retirement. They have slowed down considerably. Many of them are still active as the leaders in churches. Since they are a religious group and are likely entrenched in their faith, this also means that they are not likely to be converted. The Boomers have been catered to by churches for the past twenty to thirty years. They have high expectations from their churches. They expect to be served and catered to. This is one of the reasons that entertainment-driven worship has become so popular. Similar to the Silent Generation, the Boomers are beginning to grow older and, from a big-picture perspective are poor prospects to convert. They are not terribly religious and those that are religiously inclined have likely already put down roots in a church. For the purposes of this discussion we are now at the most important generations – Gen Xers and Millenials. These are well educated; which means that we have been taught in college and graduate school to be highly critical. We are highly relational and distrustful or institutions and large organizations. Because so many of our families are dysfunctional and broken, we have a high value for community and long for strong relationships. The Gen Xers are in the middle of raising children and many of those who left their faith when they were in college and begun coming back to church now that they have kids.
The millennials are just a few years behind in this regard; and they are also highly relational. Moreso than the Gen Xers, they are highly skeptical of organized religion, though they are quite spiritual. This is a strange phenomenon to be sure, but it has been well documented. Because of their age (and lack of entrenched faith) these two generations are the most likely to be converted. But, because they are skeptical and critical, and have distrust for organized religion, our current structure is ill-suited to attract them. Think about it this way, the symbol of organized religion is the church building and our entire structure is built around the church building. It’s no wonder that we have a hard time attracting this age group (In fact, unless I am mistaken, the only people in this age group at our church have grown up in the church. We haven’t attracted and converted any . . . yet). Add to this the fact that both groups are highly relational and long for deep and lasting friendships—this leads to logical conclusion that small groups must be part of the structure for any church that is going to consistently reach these generations (at this point we have to think back to the information about group dynamics). This is why all of the growing churches have small groups. They are growing by attracting these two groups; and for the most part they are using small groups ministries to do it.
Well, we’re at 11 pages now. I’m sorry that I have been so long winded. But since I am asking you to make such a big change and adjustment, it’s only reasonable to give you the full picture. Now that we have covered group dynamics and generational peculiarities, we are now ready to look at the specific reasons for small groups that I have discovered through my year-long study. As you read through these, read them through the lens of group dynamics and generational peculiarities. These are in no particular order.
- Small groups will help assimilate new members into the community and help them to develop relationships.
- God brings us guests all of the time; and some of them are sincere seekers. Having a small group ministry will help us to get them plugged into the life of the body. It’s difficult for us to really grasp just how hard it is to try to get plugged in to a new church and develop meaningful relationships. You have been here for a while, some of you a long while. But put yourselves in the place of a new person who is seeking God and looking for a church home. They are probably intimidated and scared. Having a few people put their arms around them and take them in helps to assimilate them into the body. There is substantiated research that states that a person must develop seven friendships within one year or they won’t stay at the church. There is a long list of people who have come and gone in the two years since I have been here. I can’t help but think how many we could have held on to if we could have gotten them plugged into a small group of Christians who could have loved on them, encouraged them and helped them feel plugged into the Church.
- There is a lot of different statistics on the impact of friendships and church growth. But the bottom line is that if visitors or new members don’t develop at least five friendships, the research indicates that they will not last more than two years.
- Develop and mentor future leaders.
- Any group, especially a church, is only as strong as its leaders. I have seen a lot of churches get a lot of things right, but have poor leadership. They all failed miserably. We have to be intentional about developing leaders for today and tomorrow. We have a lot of potential out there; we have to be good stewards with it. In a small group setting each of us to going to have more opportunities to develop deeper friendships with people, which will give us greater opportunities to mentor and raise up more leaders. Not in mention in a small group there are greater opportunities for leadership roles. Just think about this . . . how long can you reasonably expect to serve as an Elder? Three years? Five years? Ten years? Longer? That’s how long you have to train your replacements. How long do you think it will take to have a pipeline of talent that is ready to lead?
- Provide opportunities for accountability to take place.
- James 5:16 says that we are to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another. This is the essence of accountability. During my two years here there have been many issues that have come to my attention. I can only imagine all that I don’t know about. Here’s a few actual examples (all are with people in our church):
- a middle-aged couple is struggling with their grown daughter being in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. She won’t leave the man and she won’t let her parents help her. So they are left to worry and fret about her. They have only one person in their lives who they feel comfortable asking for help, encouragement and prayers from. If they were in a small group, they would have a greater chance to develop deeper friendships and would have more people they could take their struggles to and receive encouragement from.
- A married man and a woman had an emotional affair with a woman in the church. There was no physical intimacy. But marriage vows were definitely violated and two families were nearly ruined because of it. The wounds will take years to heal and the scars will remain for much longer. Had each of these people been engaged in a small group, there is a greater likelihood that the red flags (and there were plenty) could have been noticed by people who had earned the right to hold them accountable. At that point, tough conversations and accountability could have taken place before the damage was done. The red flags of a struggling marriage are easy to notice by the people who are active in your life. As it stands, there were only two people in the entire church who noticed the red flags and intervened to keep the marriage intact and from a bad situation becoming a lot worse. And this situation still isn’t completely healed.
- There is a man who has gone through a difficult situation and as a result is struggling with alcohol abuse. He is not an alcoholic. But he is not far from it. I am literally the only person who knows about it. Since there is not an appropriate group available for him to talk about his struggles and his emotional pain (that are leading to the alcohol abuse), he is left to struggle in private where Satan can have a field day with him. I am working with him as much as I can. But I just can’t help but wonder how much better off he would be if he were involved in a small group and surrounded by close friends who could minister to him.
- The last example I will share is one of a “younger” married man who has children. He is addicted to pornography and masturbation. He is greatly ashamed of his sin and is trying to defeat it. He needs and longs for relationships with Christians. But other than me, he really has none. Even though he wishes for mature Christian men to surround himself with and be ministered by, he has trouble finding them because there is no structure built into our church for him to make these friends and develop the relationships.
- As a side note, these are just four of several issues that I have had to deal with since I have been here. There are more that I have not shared. And like I said before, I am scared to think of all the ones that I don’t know about. Since we are not doing a good job of developing spiritual leaders, or giving the spiritually mature people we do have an opportunity to mentor and shepherd the struggling and hurting, I am left to do much of this on my own. Needless to say, my shoulders are only so wide.
- Create environments for discipleship to take place.
- Discipleship is simply the act of teaching people to look, think, act and live more like Jesus Christ. It is essentially the fulfillment of Romans 12:2 where Paul says that we are to be transformed by God into a new person. Having small groups built into our structure would expand our ability as a church to help disciple our members. Consider our current structure that includes one large group and four medium sized groups. Now think back to the discussion on group dynamics. We do not have a place to ask really difficult questions, discuss topics that might be uncomfortable in bigger groups. We lack the place for people to ask for personal prayers and intervention. This is one of the reasons that we have so many surface-level Christians who lack depth and spiritually maturity. In our worship group the members can hear a thirty minute lesson that might stick with them for a few days. In our medium-sized bible classes they can discuss topics and pull apart difficult scriptures. But where can they go to ask for prayers and intervention because they are struggling with envy and anger with a person at work? The answer is a small group where they have strong relationships and have developed trust and intimacy.
- Reach out and bring non-Christians into community with the church so that conversions can take place.
- This is directly related to the information on the generations. The Silent generations would be glad to come to our church. The only problem is that they are busy leading in theirs. And the few Baby Boomers that don’t already have a church home would be glad to come, if it were engaging and entertaining enough. The problem there is that we don’t have instruments, much less anything in worship that would be confused as entertaining. This leaves the two groups that, for the most part, don’t already have built-in, or strong, ties to another church. But it’s difficult to get the Gen Xers and Millennials to come to a church building unless they already have strong relationships with a member (remember that they are skeptical of organized religion). And it’s even harder to get them to stay unless they develop several relationships with members. That’s tough to do when our structure doesn’t really have any built-in fellowship or relational time (10 minutes in the foyer after worship just doesn’t cut it). The entry point to the Christ and His church for these two generations is small groups. The large and medium groups are just not built for the fellowship and deep relationships that these generations desire.
- Establish and foster an atmosphere where the “one another” passages of the Bible to be lived out.
- Here’s a list of the “one another” passages in the Bible. You’ll notice that most all of these are difficult, if not impossible, to do in the context of our large group worship service where we have almost no interaction with each other. Still yet, the lack of intimacy in the middle groups makes it difficult for most of these to happen. The small groups is the most likely place for the majority of these to happen—both because of the dynamics of the small group and because that is a setting where people can share life together.
- Can these happen outside of our group meetings? Yes, of course. But because we lack the built-in structure, most people are not going to take the necessary time to develop the relationships for these to take place. Is that there fault? I suppose they have some culpability because they lack spiritual maturity. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing in the first place . . . helping to develop people’s spiritual maturity. Our structure should make this as easy as possible; not put up road blocks for it. It just doesn’t make sense to me that for us to fulfill biblical mandates we must do it outside of the time that we plan to meet together as Church. Should our time together (no matter when it is be structured in such as a way so that we can live out our Christian lives together? This is where small groups come in. If this were part of our structure then we would have a more effective built-in avenue to fulfill these biblical commands.
|Love one another:
John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:22; 4:8; 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1: 5
|Encourage one another:
Rom. 14:19; 15:14; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25
|Accept one another:
Rom. 15:7, 14
|Strengthen one another:
|Help one another:
Heb. 3:13; 10:24
|Serve one another:
Gal. 5:13; 21; Phil. 2:3; 1 Pet. 4:9; 5:5
|Care for one another:
|Forgive one another:
Eph. 4:32; Col 3:13
|Submit to one another:
Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5
|Commit to one another:
1 John 3:16
|Build trust with one another:
1 John 1:7
|Be devoted to one another:
|Be patient with one another:
Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13
|Be interested in one another:
|Be accountable to one another:
|Confess to one another:
|Live in harmony with one another:
|Do not be conceited to one another:
|Do not pass judgment to one another:
Rom. 14:13; 15:7
|Do not slander one another:
|Instruct one another:
|Greet one another:
Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:12
|Admonish one another:
Rom. 5:14; Col. 3:16
|Spur one another on:
|Meet with one another:
|Agree with one another:
1 Cor. 16:20
|Be concerned for one another:
|Be humble to one another in love:
|Be compassionate to one another:
|Do not be consumed by one another:
|Do not anger one another:
|Do not lie to one another:
|Do not grumble to one another:
|Give preference to one another:
|Be at peace with one another:
|Sing to one another:
|Be of the same mind to one another:
Rom. 12:16; 15:5
|Comfort one another:
1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11
|Be kind to one another:
|Live in peace with one another:
1 Thess. 5:13
|Carry one another’s burdens:
- There is a biblical precedent for large and small groups within a church.
- As you probably know already, the early church met in the context of the home. There were no church buildings until Constantine began his aggressive building projects (i.e. basilicas) in the early to mid 300s. Until then there are some archeological examples of personal homes being renovated to accommodate the church meetings. But it is unlikely that they increased the size much, only the convenience of the meeting.
- The book of Acts presents the first century church as having both large and small group meetings. What is noticeably absent are medium sized groups.
- Consider these scriptures and notice the group sizes that are mentioned.
- Acts 2:42-47: 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place (large group) and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day (large group), met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity (small groups)— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
- 5:42: 42 And every day, in the Temple (large group) and from house to house (small groups), they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”
- 19:9: 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus (large group).
- 20:20-21: 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly (large groups probably in the agora) or in your homes (small groups).
- Romans 16:3-15: 5 Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home. 10 Greet Apelles, a good man whom Christ approves. And give my greetings to the believers from the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.[c] Greet the Lord’s people from the household of Narcissus. 14 Give my greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters[d] who meet with them. 15 Give my greetings to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers[e] who meet with them.
- These scriptures indicate that the church in Rome was made up of at least 5 small groups that met in people’s homes.
- 16:23: 23 Gaius says hello to you. He is my host and also serves as host to the whole church (large group). Erastus, the city treasurer, sends you his greetings, and so does our brother Quartus.
- We can’t be sure of the setting, but this scripture indicates that there were some instances when the entire church in Corinth met together; and when they did, they met at Gaius’ home. (Romans was written while Paul was working in Corinth).
- 1 Corinthians 16:19: 19 The churches here in the province of Asia send greetings in the Lord, as do Aquila and Priscilla and all the others who gather in their home for church meetings (small group).
- In addition to the large group meeting at Gaius’ home (Romans 16:23), it is clear that there were small groups that met in people’s homes in Corinth as well. Paul probably mentioned Aquila and Priscilla because, as fellow tent makers or leather workers, he may have stayed with them as they worked together.
- One of our mottos (in the Churches of Christ) has always been to “Restore New Testament Christianity.” We have four middle-sized groups and middle sized groups don’t seem to have existed in the New Testament church. And we have no formal small groups; which were the fundamental structure of the New Testament church.
- Give people more opportunities to use their spiritual gifts in service to one another.
- I have underlined all the spiritual gifts mentioned by Paul in these texts. Think about each one and whether or not they can be easily utilized in our current large and medium group structure.
- Romans 12:4-8: 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy (large, medium and small groups), speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others (small group), serve them well. If you are a teacher (large and small), teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others (small group), be encouraging. If it is giving (large, medium and small), give generously. If God has given you leadership (small group) ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness (small group) to others, do it gladly.
- 1 Corinthians 12:7-11: 7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice (medium and small group); to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge (any size). 9 The same Spirit gives great faith (best shared in medium and small group) to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy (any size group). He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
- Develop, build and strengthen relationships that are not feasible in large groups.
- In our large group there is no interaction to speak of, as a result it is nearly impossible to create foster and deepen relationships. Medium sized groups are a little better, but they still lack the necessary intimacy. Small groups are ideal for developing relationships. This is where we can sit across the kitchen table with one another, share a cup of coffee and really get to know one another.
- Enable the church to reach the demographics that is most ripe for the harvest.
- We have covered this extensively. “Older” people are generally not looking for a new church. “Younger” people who are looking do not generally like organized (building-based) church; even though they are interesting in a relationship with God. By taking the church to our homes we are more likely to be able to bring them in long enough to create the relationships and convert them to Christ.
Well, I think an 18 page letter is long enough. In fact, it’s definitely the longest letter I have ever written. It is just really important to me that I lay it all out there for you. I am sorry for taking up so much of your time, but I do thank you for making it this far. If I have been able to convince you that we need small groups, great! I’ll get the ball rolling and keep you up to date each step of the way. If you are not there yet, still have questions, or think it’s the wrong thing for us, I am going to ask you to do one thing . . . let me cash in some of the trust that I have tried to earn from you these past couple of years; and give us two years to try small groups. If after two years it still isn’t working or you still aren’t convinced that it’s good for the church, then we will take it apart and go back to how we have it now. I am asking for two years because it will take that long to work out the kinks, get people used to it and give it a chance to get some traction. Let me know if you have any questions. I will do my best to answer them. Thanks again for your time.
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