Three weeks into the initial launch of small groups at Church of the Resurrection in Leewood, Kansas, church leadership is still feeling overwhelmed by its members' eager response. The church was expecting to begin with 150 small groups and 1,500 participants, but ended up with 240 groups and 2,600 participants.
Debi Nixon, Director of Small Group Ministry at this United Methodist church, says she thought they would have to "sell" the small group idea. "Instead," she says, "we found that people were hungry for it and had been waiting for us to give them the opportunity to be in community with Christians, where they could get together and pray and spend time studying the word and fellowshipping."
While most of the small group members are church members, they are already reaching out to the community. Nixon says about 10 percent or less are attending in response to the invitation of friends or co-workers. She says a couple of the small groups are actually meeting in work places.
And another one is meeting in a nursing home. "The small group host is a nursing home resident," Nixon explains. "She wanted to be a part of a small group so badly, but she wasn't able to get into a home-based group because none were handicapped accessible." Nixon asked if the woman would be willing to host a group in the nursing home if the church helped her. She agreed and got the group together herself.
But even amidst the excitement, there have been some hesitations. For example, Nixon tells of one group made up of couples in their 30s and 40s, parents of teenagers and elementary-aged children, who weren't sure they could fit one night a week into their already busy schedules. "But after the first night, they decided their small group is the most important commitment they could make," says Nixon.
Nixon says small groups are helping their church fulfill its purpose statement, which is to "help build Christian community where people are becoming deeply committed Christians." And therefore, they are restructuring the inclusion process to include small group ministry.
Now when newcomers attend the membership class, they no longer sit theater style and listen to a lecture from various staff members. Instead, they sit in groups of 10-12 and get to meet other new members, which gives them a feel for what being in a small group is like. Then they are, of course, encouraged to plug in to a small group.
"I hope the fervor for small groups never dies down," Nixon says. "We want to figure out how to keep the momentum going all the time."