In modern churches, ‘small groups’ has become somewhat of a buzzword. Nothing new, really, but hardly the Holy Grail, either.
By writing this, I know, I may be letting my own resignation on the matter guide my judgment. I hope that no one will take this as a personal criticism. But I feel some perspective is important, given that pretty much everyone is touting small groups as the solution to everything that’s wrong with the church. I don’t think it is (I don’t think it’s from the devil, either – that’s a whole other issue that I won’t waste my time on).
Having experienced a number of small groups, of which I deem no more than half actually successful, I have to ask the inevitable question: Is it really worth it?
A lot is said and written about the ideas, the different types, the how-tos, and the merits of small groups. I know there are good sides to the story. But in my opinion, not enough is said about the pitfalls. So here are a few observations, rants, or just some things to be aware of:
- Small groups can consume valuable resources. The most valuable one being: Time. People may get so involved in their small group that they abandon other things in church. Now this may be a good thing if you’re a cell-based church and all you do revolves around small groups. But if you’re not, it is necessary to take a healthy look on how you prioritise.
- Small groups can create or enhance divisions within a church. As stated above, if people ‘get too much into’ their small group, it may be at the cost of the rest of the church. So what happens to those people who are not in small groups? Or to the not-so-perfect groups? What ever happened to the ‘body of believers’? A good-working group may be reluctant to reach out to other members, since they’re doing quite all right, thank you.
- Small groups force you into community. Often it seems like a matter of luck wether you end up in a good group or not. With small groups, the church puts you in a group of 10 people, and you must be friends with these people and no-one else. Really? So what if you’d like to hang out with friends from other small groups? Tough luck – they’re probably too busy, since they’re spending all their time on that wonderful small group.
- Small groups don’t (always) account for different types of people. Many small group how-tos tell you that when you start a group you should decide on what you want from the group and everyone should agree on its values, how they’d like it to work, etc. Right. When was the last time you found 10 people with the same wishes for… well, anything? In stead of forcing some model on people, wouldn’t it be better just to let it be known which types are available, and let people choose the group that best fits their ideal?
- Small groups are not everything. Some people will tell you that small groups are not just another thing we do in church, it IS church. I respectfully disagree. If a small group grows to be too well-working, too all-encompassing, too harmonious, too close friends, it should be shut down. For one, this often leads to exclusiveness. But more importantly, it feeds a utopian illusion which will be my last point.
- Small groups are not your best friends. They can be a circle of friendship, yes. But they should never become your personal circle. If this happens, two things may and will result: 1. It is hard to enter the group. 2. Splitting the group (which should be done, as the group grows) becomes not just difficult, but excruciatingly painful. You may never want to join a small group again.
Let me repeat: the above listed are, fortunately, not all things I have experienced in their extremity. But I felt a need to put some perspective into the otherwise often one-sided discussion about small groups.