In other words, do you want to be a church of small groups or a church with small groups? This is one of the most important questions you can ask. And understanding the differences will help you decide what type of church you want to be.
A church of small groups will typically look to the small group unit as the primary way in which people get connected, grow, and receive care. For these churches, life in the body happens through a small group.
A church with small groups will see small groups as an avenue to help people connect, grow, and receive care, but not the only way for this to happen. These churches typically create other systems to make sure the body is cared for. Growth opportunities might happen in short term classes or mentoring relationships as well as small groups.
Here are three advantages for a church of small groups:
1. Next steps are more clearly defined. Everyone should know that being involved in your church means being in a small group. All communication somehow ties back to what is happening with the small groups in your church.
2. When the expectation is for everyone to be in a small group, it is easier to care for those who have needs. For example, when someone is in the hospital, the small group is expected to provide meals and attend to the needs of that family. It empowers the body to serve one another and provides better care than a pastoral staff could.
3. A church of small groups has a unique perspective to see and meet needs in your community. When everything happens through small groups, this alleviates the need for additional teams of people. Foster care is one example; a foster family engaged with a small group can receive support and encouragement from their group. In some cases, the group helps financially, with respite care, with clothing, or with other needs. The point is that the system to meet the needs is already in place.
At a church of small groups, it is more common to hear statements such as, “My church felt a lot smaller once we connected into a small group,” or “I’m not sure how my family would have survived without our small group.”
Here are three advantages for a church with small groups:
1. This approach allows you to have a variety of ways to connect people, and allows people to choose their level of involvement and commitment. Short and long-term classes, mentoring relationships, as well as small groups all create opportunities for people to connect and grow.
2. The staff is usually very connected and very involved in helping know and meet the needs of the congregation. This doesn’t mean they do all of the care, but will recruit teams to help with hospital visits, providing meals, and general pastoral duties.
3. Specialized growth tracks, in addition to general small groups, can meet people where they are in their faith journey. Some churches have invested in and grown their mentorship program enabling them to connect people at a very personal level to help them grow in very specific areas. You might offer a general spiritual growth track, or perhaps financial or parenting tracks. Because of the variety, they were able to customize the experience for the individual.
At a church with small groups, it is more common to hear statements like, “I’m not sure my family would have survived that hardship without the support of our pastor,” or “I love the variety in options that my church gives me to grow; it allows me to have more flexibility in my schedule.”
As you look to organize your groups, it’s critical to know which approach you want to take as a church.
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