Small Groups: What Can You Expect?
Small groups are a touchy subject in many Christian circles. I have friends all over the spectrum – all the way from “I wouldn’t consider attending a congregation that doesn’t do small groups” to “that small group stuff is too New Agey for me” to “I’m too busy for that – how much more does that church want from me, anyway?” I’m certainly no expert, but I talk to a lot of people, and I read a lot. Right now, I’m reading A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God, and Larry Osborne touches on a lot of topics, trying to clear away a bunch of hype and conjecture and legalism from them. What’s really required? What really works? What’s really promised? In one chapter, he focuses his contrarian lens on small groups.
I’ve heard small group ministries promise to revolutionize your experience of Christian life. I’ve heard them promise to fill my life with friends – with meaning – with blessings. Being in a small group will fix my struggles with sin because I will have a ready-made accountability group. Being in a small group will multiply my Bible knowledge because I will suddenly be surrounded by other believers. Here’s the deal, though – while many of those things sound great to lots of people, small groups are absolutely not a guarantee to provide them, to create them. Lots of people who have been promised the moon by small-group planners might never do small groups again because of the broad chasm between promise and reality. So maybe the contrarian view is healthier: maybe we should promise three things that small groups always provide, and let the ministry grow from there without promising a bunch of other things.
We can’t promise that small groups will provide friends – but small groups always provide connectedness. “Belonging to a small group, small church, or any other form of close and transparent relationship Velcros me to people and information I’ll need when a need-to-grow or need-to-know crisis develops.”
We can’t promise that small groups will provide accountability – but small groups always provide peer pressure. Peer pressure is not an absolutely negative force – it is simply a force, whose positive or negative nature is wrapped up in who our peers actually are. Spiritual growth is easier to come by when you’re around other people who want to grow spiritually. Look at Hebrews 10:24-25, and notice that one of the most powerful ways to encourage and be encouraged is simply to continue meeting together. Sermons and large gatherings have their place, but growth is contagious – the best way to get closer to Jesus is to spend time around people moving closer to Jesus.
Finally, we can’t promise that small groups will provide motivation or volumes of Bible knowledge – but small groups always provide a place to be honest. Everyone reading this has both received and given what Osborne calls The Church Answer. “How ya doin’?” “Fine! You?” “Fine.” Even if you’ve never gone to church in your life, you’ve participated in that exchange countless times at work, at Wal-Mart, anywhere that lots of people gather who don’t know each other well. There’s no time for anything BUT The Church Answer during most meet-and-greets. Classes are arranged for knowledge transfer, sermons for motivation. Where, in your regular gatherings with other believers, is there time to be honest? Osborne suggests, “For genuine and lasting spiritual growth, most of us will have to find a way to move beyond the casual and cautious relationships we so easily settle for.”
So if your church is thinking about small groups, I highly recommend them – but don’t offer hype and promises based upon anecdotal evidence or your own unique experiences. Maybe your personality is especially well-suited for small-group interaction. But all small groups will provide connectedness, positive peer pressure, and a place to be honest – and no other program provides those three things as naturally as do small groups! Think about it.
In HIS love,