- Confessing sins and wrongdoings to God and asking for forgiveness
- Following Jesus Christ for years
- Being willing to obey God, no matter the cost
- Praying for the spiritual status of unbelievers
- Reading a book about increasing spiritual growth
- Being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian
- Memorizing Bible verses
- Attending a small group focused on Bible study
Notice the last factor: Small groups are key to combating and changing the epidemic of biblical illiteracy. Our research shows that as Christians increase their participation in small groups, their Bible engagement scores go up.
As part of the research for Transformational Groups, which I coauthored with Eric Geiger, we surveyed regular group attenders and non-group attenders about their daily spiritual lives—specifically the time they spend outside of church and church-related activities. We found that group attenders were much more likely than non-group members to read their Bible regularly—67 percent compared to only 27 percent. Being involved in a small group made it more than twice as likely a Christian would be regularly reading God's Word.
On top of that, we found involvement in small groups made Christians more likely to pray for others and confess sins to God—both of which are predictors of biblical engagement. It's no wonder we concluded quite simply: groups matter.
As we wrote in the book, "God has supernaturally ordained community to sanctify his people to grow in Christ. A call to discipleship and spiritual maturity is a call to biblical community." It doesn't matter what you call small groups within your church community—life groups, Sunday school, discipleship classes, Bible study fellowships—the importance of them remains the same. It's impossible to make disciples apart from community. Groups might not be the only place transformation happens, but I'm convinced they're the primary place.
Most pastors agree groups are important to the life of their church, but there's a disconnect between the stated importance and the reality of what's happening in most churches. Our research found 92 percent of Protestant pastors believe their people are making significant progress in their spiritual development, but more than half (56 percent) admit they don't regularly assess their personal growth. In addition, less than half (42 percent) say their churches have a "well-defined" approach to group ministry. Without a clear plan for small groups, your congregation is missing out on God's tool for transformation and growth.
So what types of small groups do you need in place at your church? While a wide variety of group settings can work, there are particular aspects that lead to life change. Here are four important facets of small groups:
1. Connect: Small groups connect people in relationships. According to William Hendricks in Exit Interviews, one common reason given by people who leave churches is a failure to connect in relationship. In addition, LifeWay Research found 1 in 5 young adults who left church said they did not feel connected to the people at their church. Small groups must provide a comfortable environment for people to connect.