This week I read an extremely thought provoking post by Bill Reichart called "Should you put small groups out of their misery?" Bill was discussing a post by Brian Jones with an even stronger title: "Why churches should euthanize their small groups". The original post by Brian doesn't seem to be online any more, although you can find on other blogs discussion of that post and related posts. Brian Jones is a big proponent of discipleship, of the mission of the church to make disciples, and is respectful of those who have tried hard to make small groups work. He just thinks that small groups are terrible at making disciples and don't work.
Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90% of small groups never produce one single disciple, ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church. And they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago – small groups just aren't working.Bill Reichart of Vine Community Church finds some points in common, agreeing that they don't do a very good job of developing disciples. Indeed they are still committed to small groups but have altered their expectations. He thinks they are a doorway into connection and relationship within the church, a catalyst for service into the community, and an excellent fishing pond from which discipleship can be birthed. What instead? "Intentional and relational driven discipleship must be happening throughout the DNA of the church in order for people to grow."
Wow... food for thought! Let me be clear - I'm a huge proponent of small groups. They have been such a huge blessing for me and I've seen tremendous life-change and discipleship occur that I can't imagine not being in a small group. I'm also a (new) small groups coach and am trying to help other small group leaders get a handle on helping others become fully devoted followers of Christ. These two articles raise a number of great questions, more than I can address in this post. (Though I will come back to the question of discipleship soon.) I asked my small group for their reaction to Jones' article. Here's what came up...
- Small groups are definitely of great value to us
- The fellowship and relationships formed in small groups are a big factor
- Discussions among those serious about their faith are challenging and helpful
- They help new people in a church connect in a powerful way
- We really enjoy serving together as a group, within both church and community
- Each of us have had rough spots in our lives where a small group was there for us
- What do people think work better for building disciples if not small groups?
Any thoughts? Small groups - what are they good for?