Growing Smaller with Groups

In response to our series “Reasons our church should grow”, Cherryl asked a great question that deserves a separate answer:

A reason for the church to grow is so the many life experiences can be shared to encourage one another and show God’s power. But isn’t it a paradox that the “small group” is the best place to share the experiences?

A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself.

How can we honestly say that our church needs to grow larger in order to share life experiences and grow each other while, at the same time, saying that we need to meet in small groups in order to share life experiences and grow each other?

One of the biggest fears that many people have about their growing church is that they won’t know everybody any more. The ironic thing about that concept is that, with almost no exception, they don’t know everybody now. Why? Because they spend so much time trying to say every name and shake every hand that they actually miss out on knowing anybody well.

I read a study a few years ago that said that no matter if you are in a church of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000, you probably won’t know more than about 60 people anyway. The size just changes the percentage, not the actual number.

This is why it’s so important to get plugged into a small group – so that you can get to really know and share life with others in God’s family. That won’t happen on Sunday morning, regardless of the size of the church.

We have chosen to use a time-based small group model that offers various groups for fixed-lengths a few times per year. There are several reasons, but here are the two most important:

1. There is only so much that one group of people has to offer. If you are with the same group for a long period of time, eventually you will get to know each other so well that you have little growth room left. That is not to say that you no longer have room to grow personally, but that there is no room to grow within the group.

There is such a thing as knowing someone too well to be able to give objective advice, support, criticism, or encouragement. We see this in every family who goes to a counselor and in every business that hires a consultant. Sometimes we get too close to a situation to be any help.

Our groups are not designed to make everybody close, intimate, bosom-buddies. Not only is that not practical, it’s impossible.

Our groups are designed to bring people together through a common interest or need for a short period of time, allow you the opportunity to create friendships that can grow over time if you wish, and help us grow as a group in that particular stage of life. Once the time is done, we take a break for a few weeks, then join another group.

A growing church offers more opportunities to do life with more people over a longer period of time. A small church that won’t grow offers only so much to its people before they plateau. Which leads us right into the next point.

2. A small group that stays together for too long can become “insider-focused”, forgetting that there is a whole ministry and world outside of their little bubble. The goal of a small group isn’t to become its own little church, but rather a function growing group within the overall ministry of the church.

Interestingly, this also applies to small churches that won’t grow. One of the main reasons that a church doesn’t grow is because the people get so wrapped up in themselves – their ministries, their schedules, their traditions, their whatever – that they stop seeing what it around them. It’s the classic “can’t see the forest for the trees”.

A church that refuses to grow is one that has stopped seeing the big picture – the vision of God’s purpose for the church, the world, and the church in the world.

So we are to grow larger and smaller at the same time – larger in our weekend services, in our impact, in the number of people that are giving their lives to Christ, in the number of groups that we offer.

And smaller as the ever-increasing numbers of people plug into groups to do life with a few people for a short time so that they can grow in a big way.

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Daniel Goepfrich

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