Note: This article has been excerpted from Staying Connected to Your Church.
"I feel connected to my small group but not to the church."
"I've been leading a group for years and we are doing fine. We don't need to be involved with the church."
"The only friends I have at church are in my small group."
Many of us have heard or experienced similar feelings. Such perceptions arise in churches (especially larger churches) when people feel a sense of belonging with their group but not with their church. A small group can sometimes function as an isolated island among the numerous ministries of the church. After all, the primary activities of a group (e.g., Bible study, discussion, prayer, support, fellowship, discipleship, accountability) usually happen outside the church building and away from the attention of church leaders. This makes it easy for both small-group leaders and small-group members to feel disconnected from the vision, mission, and life of the church.
Part of the Whole
Small groups, however, are not meant to be a substitute for the larger church; rather, they are a vital part of the greater whole. Groups are spiritually healthier and group members are more likely to grow and serve when they are fully integrated into the local body of Christ. Engaging in the life of the church beyond the group fosters a greater sense of unity within the church, higher spiritual accountability, broader access to resources, wider impact in outreach, and more support for group members.
So how can a small group become woven into the fabric of your church's body life? Here are some simple ways to integrate groups more fully into your church.
1. Use sermon-based curriculum.
Small-group curriculum based upon the sermon teaching series has become a popular option for many churches. Depending on the resources available, this can be as simple as writing a few questions related to the weekly sermon for groups to discuss or as comprehensive as a full DVD curriculum distributed in advance of the sermon series. Regardless of format, the process of sharing, discussing, and applying Sunday's message together is a powerful method of aligning minds and hearts with the vision and focus of the church. It provides common language, shared experience, and a greater continuity between what is happening on Sunday mornings and in the group time, thereby fostering a closer sense of connection with the church.
In addition, using sermon discussion curriculum also helps new people gel more quickly either into a new group or an existing group. The weekend service is the one common experience that any group of strangers from a church will share and is a good foundation to build upon. Unlike other curriculum that may require extensive reading and other "homework," the sermon-based curriculum gives everyone, regardless of their level of spiritual maturity, a chance to participate and contribute. So it is an easy way to build relationships within the group as well as build continuity with the larger church.
2. Serve together within and beyond the church walls.
As group leaders know, serving projects often knit members together through the bond of shared goals and experiences. When people work with one another and see each other in a different context than the living room, their relationships are strengthened. You can tap into this dynamic when you choose to serve together as a small group.
Brainstorm ways your group can serve and, at the same time, connect with others in various ministries (e.g., preparing communion, ushering, greeting, prepping crafts for Sunday school, prayer ministry, stuffing bulletins, maintaining facilities, directing parking, helping families in need, or staffing the donut table). Perhaps several members in the group could teach a Sunday school class, lead a youth group, volunteer with the children's choir, or work in the nursery together for a semester.