Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Small Groups... Again.

If you search my blog for "small groups" you will find quite a few keystrokes dedicated to the subject in my short time at University. My last post on the topic, How does one declare a moratorium? actually caused a couple of my colleagues to react as though I declared that there is no hell. My position for a while has been that small groups are good in theory. However, if they are not done well, not only are they not of a lot of benefit, they can also be a detriment to the body.

Anyway, here I am again. Someone recently forwarded me a short post by Craig Groeschel called "Why I Still Believe in Small Groups." I agree with the points that he makes in the post but I want to continue to push back. Go to churchleaders.com and read the post in its original context. But here I want to discuss each of his points. His points are in bold. My thoughts are in italics.

Groeschel's First Point: They follow the early church model of meeting in homes.
I totally agree. However, if we look at the book of Acts, there were some specific things that they were doing. If we look at the writings of Paul, there were some specific bad habits that they got into right from the start. A church of healthy small groups has a way to keep groups doing the right things and keep them from adopting bad habits.

Groeschel's Second Point: They are a tremendous tool for discipleship.
I agree that they can be, if the above is addressed. I will warn that, if there is not an intentional way to make this happen, small groups can actually get in the way of discipleship. If people commit to participate in a small group at the invitation of the church, they may assume that they are being given what they need to grow as a disciple. However, if the group is a completely inward focused group with no real accountability, no real learning, no real intentional discipleship, how can we expect them to grow?

Groeschel's Third Point: They get more people involved using their gifts of hospitality, teaching, exhortation, etc.
Totally true - especially if the church is doing things to help people identify their gifts and put them to work in the group.

Groeschel's Fourth Point: They engage the body of Christ in pastoral care.
Again, they can, if given the tools. If not, this can happen and I have seen it happen: the group gathers to bemoan the fact that one of their members was ill and no one from "the church" reached out to them.

Groeschel's Fifth Point: They build leaders.

Groeschel's Sixth Point: Done well, they become a tremendous tool of retention.
Here are my thoughts on the "done well" vs. "not done well." First of all, to be done well, the groups need to be intentional in their shepherding of the group. Some groups just do this naturally, other don't. Here is the other concern that I have: sometimes groups are tremendous tools of retention - retaining people in the group, but not the church. Someone might argue this with me saying, "who cares, as long as they are staying in a group they are still connected to the body." They would be correct, IF the group was a fully functional house church. Otherwise, people connected to the group and not the church would be disconnected from essential aspects of what it means to be church, things like worship and outreach. This is one that could certainly involve some interpretation based on denomination and people's understanding of church.

Groeschel's Seventh Point: They have unlimited meeting space.
That is a really good point.

Groeschel's Eighth Point: They have unlimited meeting times.
Amen to that. The church still has the problem of only serving people with 9-5 jobs. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to grow but just can't do Tuesdays at 6:30.

Groeschel's Eighth Point: They have changed my life.
Well I just can't argue with that. And he is not the only one.

I am clearly not making any points that Craig Groeschel hasn't already considered and likely addressed in his small group plans. I don't write any of this to debate him for he clearly knows how to make this work. I am reflecting on his thoughts simply in my continued attempt to avoid the "small group band aid," that temptation to remedy any limitation of a church by throwing together a small groups program. Trouble with pastoral care? Try small groups. No discipleship going on? Small groups. Not growing? Small groups. Lots of people leaving? Small groups.

Meeting together in homes, in coffee shops, in churches to pray, to study scripture, to hold one another accountable, to walk with each other through life, this is a part of our Christian tradition and part of the Wesleyan heritage of the United Methodist Church. I just challenge us to consider the why and how of small groups that we can implement and support them in ways that further the kingdom.
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