Culture At Large

On small groups and broken church models

Andy Rau

Over at Cerulean Sanctum, Dan Edelen talks about the failure of "small groups" to revitalize the church. Many churches (including my own) put great value on small groups of congregation members who get together for fellowship, Bible study, and support. But in the several decades that small groups have been around, has the small group movement produced a more vibrant church? Dan is skeptical, and says it's time to either fix or abandon it:

Part of the reason I believe that small groups have resoundingly failed to deliver on their promise is that no one seems to look at them from the right perspective. We never view small groups as aiding the church as a collective body. Our model is more based on the idea that we're helping individuals plug-in on a more granular level.

But that's the typical Evangelical obsession with the individual. Meet the individual's need on a very intimate level and you'll build a wildly effective church from that core. Forty years later, that failed mentality still prevails.

In most churches I've attended, small groups have been viewed as a valuable parachurch activity, not as the core of church life; so I am not ready to declare them a failure quite yet. His charge that the church is too individual-focused does ring true, to some extent--I tend to see that largely as the result of living in an American culture that has always celebrated individuality and independence.

But setting aside for a moment the small group question, I think Dan is reminding us of an important but often-overlooked responsibility for believers: to regularly subject our activities and ideas to scrutiny, always asking "Is this benefiting the kingdom of God?" We're all creatures of habit; it's easy--both as a church community and as an individual--to keep pursuing the same strategies or behaviors simply because they worked in the past, or because we want them to work.

What about your church? Are its approaches to worship, discipleship, and evangelism producing results? Or is it time to prayerfully consider overhauling or scrapping models that aren't working? Let us never abandon a church model just because it isn't producing the exact numbers we want--but let us never press ahead with an unproductive model just because we didn't take the time to review and evaluate whether or not it was working.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church