- 87% said 'it brought me closer to God'
- 79% said it 'strengthened my prayer life'
- 77% said 'it made me more confident in my faith'
- 76% said ‘it made me more able to connect faith and everyday life'
- 72% said ‘it made me more accepting and forgiven of others'
- 68% said ‘it made me more confident in speaking about faith'
- 51% said ‘it made me more likely to help my neighbors'
- 23% said ‘it got me more involved in justice issues nationally or internationally'
- 18% said ‘it got me more invoked in local issues'
- 54% of people who belong to American mega-churches (3000+ people) say they belong to a ‘close-knit’ community. Why? Small groups!
- Those who join small groups (note that this is correlation not causation):
- Attend worship more often
- Feel a stronger connection to the church
- Give more time and money
- Small groups tend to:
- enhance racial-ethnic diversity
- promote congregational growth (and retains members)
- have positive effects on members’ beliefs and practices
- Small groups are highly valued by participants
- Small groups create a sense of community and provide pastoral care
- Small groups acts as mediating agents in churches.
- Small groups have a capacity to help people own and develop faith
- Small groups tend to replicate the value of the church to which they belong
- Small groups borrow from and are shaped by forces in wider culture
- Small groups are not intrinsically missional
[Roger Walton's book which contains this research and more theological reflection can be found HERE.]
What should we-- pastors-- make of this?
For me, there are two points for further reflection:
1. Small groups don't inherently facilitate learning.
There are two possible decisions that one may make as a result: either we find a different vehicle for actually learning about God and what it means to be His people, or we work to help groups develop better content. Our church for years had a 'free market' approach to small groups: anyone could lead a group about anything, and if people kept coming, that meant it was 'working'. This is fraught with problems, not least of which is why the premise of Western economics ought to be imported into an ecclesial context! But the most glaring deficiency is it's lack of an intentional way to help people learn. It is true that discipleship is not simply knowledge-driven; but while discipleship is more than learning, it is not less than learning.
2. Small groups pull inward unless they are pushed outward.
How can groups be led into mission? Some churches have groups cluster into 'missional communities' that host house parties or neighborhood gatherings as a way of extending outwards. Others have their groups build in a regular day of serving the community or partnering with local non-profits. Whatever the model, the challenge remains: groups have a centripetal force and must be intentionally pushed outward.
What about you? What are some reflections you have? What are some ways you and your church have intentionally helped small groups be better at learning and at mission?