According to a 2007-2008 Barna Group study of over 3,000 random respondents, 41 percent of adults attending a Protestant church associate with a congregation of 100 or fewer adults. An additional 23 percent can be found at a church of 101 to 200 adults, 18 percent in congregations of 201 to 499 adults, and only 9 percent of church-goers in congregations of 500 to 999. In other words, even though the mega-church that often receives the buzz, it is the smaller church in America who is ministering to the masses.
Geography, finances, and local demographics all impact how, and what, ministry is happening. Yet one thing is certain: God calls us to be in community with one another. But do small churches need small groups? After all, the existence of authentic community can be taken for granted when numbers are small and everyone seems to know everyone else—or can it?
The truth is, small groups in smaller churches provide three basic necessities for a congregation's healthy spiritual growth: accountability, forward momentum, and a missional identity.
Author and pastor Bill Search wrote the following on his www.simplesmallgroups.com blog: "So here's what hit me right between the eyes—God wired us for community. At the very beginning of the story he made humans in HIS IMAGE, which means we are created in the image of the God who lives perpetually in community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have a void in our lives that only can be filled through human relationships. God made us that way."
So if Biblical community started with three, that model prepares the way for group life in a church, whether that church has a membership of 75 or 750 or 7500. After all, isn't a major goal of small groups to give people connection points so they don't feel so alone and isolated in this broken world in which we live? Small-group life allows for a refocusing of relationships, drawing people into greater spiritual intimacy with one another and with God as they seek to know him, love him and serve him.
So maybe you've been thinking about starting a small-group ministry in your smaller church, but what you're hearing is:
- Why do we need small groups? We've all known each other for years.
- Small groups? That's for those mega-churches that want to create a small-church feel. We've already got that here.
- Who are you going to put me with? Brenda talks too much. Sarah argues too much. Rebecca preaches too much, and Jeannie cries too much. I don't need that in my life.
- We've gotten along fine without small groups so far. Why should we bother?
The bottom line is that, as the body of Christ, we should bother because "sin demands to have us by ourselves because when we're alone, it has power over us," quoting Greg Bowman. When we're alone, we're vulnerable and open to the temptation to walk (or run sprinting in the other direction) away from God.
In a 2009 Washington Times interview, Bill Search explained: "[Small groups] are the closest thing to the electricity of the early church. Paul wrote his letters to basically small groups run amok …. If we don't confess to each other and hear people affirm us, in the process we lose a sense of forgiveness. If we confessed what we really struggle with, that'd be electric."
As believers, we all need to be accountable to one another for our words, our thoughts, our choices, and our actions. No matter the size of the congregation, being able to do life together—with all of its ups and downs, struggles and celebrations, questions and answers, order and chaos—is what God intended when he created the world.