Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Faith Works 11-5-05
Jeff Gill

To Grow Larger, Get Smaller

A church with a million members: not a denomination, but a congregation. In Seoul, South Korea is such a church. Paul Yonggi Cho is the pastor, and while cultural factors of Korean life no doubt play a role, he says the key factor is the realization "to grow larger, we must get smaller."
In New Testament Christianity, the house church and the small gathering is as common as large assemblies in public spaces, and those moments of worship and corporate life inspired Pastor Yonggi Cho’s insight, which has been picked up by megachurch leaders in America like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.
Congregations like Willow Creek and Saddleback may be tens of thousands in total membership, but both Hybels and Warren affirm the necessary place of the cell group, house church, or study circle in making such growth, or any growth, possible.
To grow larger as a worshiping congregation, you must get small as a church.
Rolling Plains United Methodist Church south of Zanesville has grown dramatically along with the development of "life groups" with special interests like quilting, motorcycles, caregiving, or prayer. Whatever the specific issue that brought the five to ten together in the first place, they meet regularly (it could be weekly, biweekly, or monthly). Brian Law, their pastor, notes "And they have leadership which is both accountable as well as supported by training and guidance from church staff, and they ground their work in prayer and sharing."
The principle at work is that you can’t effectively share the Gospel until you are ready to share your story with a small, safe group – and listen well to their stories, as well. So a small group might spend 25 minutes with some prayer and study resources, and then spend an hour knitting afghans, or repairing porches for the elderly or disabled in the church area, or cooking dinners for the homeless. Reflection and action, in a context small enough to allow some personal sharing, but with support from a larger structure so no one feels as if they are dealing with the big issues when they come along all by themselves.
Many churches have small groups and don’t know it, or have systems in place that could support a vital group structure. Choir practice, if grounded in some prayer and sharing, can become a small group time; fellowship groups, if the gossip is kept secondary to heartfelt communication, can become a life circle; work groups or mission teams are easily able to facilitate some personal discussion and reflection if given some basic tools along with their standard toolbelt.
Small group life is considered by many church health and vitality consultants as the single best indicator of where congregational life is heading. Ideally, there should be one functioning small group per ten in your average worship attendance. If you average 100 per Sunday over the year, there should be about ten small groups among adult classes, choirs, fellowship circles, and support groups. If you have 11 or more, and they really are providing space for sharing and support along with prayer plus their "official" purpose, you’re likely heading in a positive direction.
A warning, and an offer: for every three new small groups you start, two will likely not survive a year. That’s considered normal, whatever the planning that went into starting the groups. There is an alchemy poorly understood to put a group of people together and build community among them; the best sign is when a gathering occurs around a common interest and they come to church leadership and say "How do we make this a small group?"
The offer is simply an outline for a six week study that any kind of group can use to explore sharing one’s story in a safe, secure small group environment. This can be six one hour gatherings over whatever period of time, or twelve 25 minute sessions tied to another hour spent on . . . needlepoint, carburetors, or home repair.
Send me an e-mail to and I’ll send you the outline, as text or an attachment. Two groups in the area are using it already, and I’m delighted to offer it to anyone trying to improve their group process!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send comments or questions (or requests for the small group outline) to

No comments:

Post a Comment