I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about small groups. Part of that is because I’ll be taking on the leadership of one of our adult Sunday school classes (pending church approval). A church without small groups will struggle to be more than just a performance venue. If the only interaction people have at church is shaking hands with a few people, it is unlikely that people will miss them when they are gone and when they are hurting, there is no one there to help them. That’s not what church is about. But just what is a small group?
From Acts, we know that the disciples met from house to house. We don’t know exactly what this looked like, but we know they did it. Today, different churches do small groups differently. Some people will say something like, “We don’t do Sunday school; we do small groups.” But we need to be careful that we don’t turn that around and say, “We don’t do small groups; we do Sunday school.” Sunday school is just one of several things that can be considered small groups. But is one better than the other? Must we do as they did in Acts and meet in people’s houses? I think we need to be careful about always saying that if we don’t do it exactly the way they did, we aren’t doing it right. When Paul instructed Timothy on how church should be done, this didn’t seem to be an issue of primary importance. Instead, he focused on personnel issues. If you get the right set of leaders in place, the rest isn’t so important.
Meeting in people’s homes has some advantages. The group can meet at a time that is convenient for the group. You don’t have to have as big of a church building. It may seem less formal, so people are more comfortable. But Sunday school or at church small groups also has advantages. Parking isn’t an issue. There is a built in baby sitter for those who have kids. If a group leader is going to be out of town, the group will meet in the same place they always do.
Unfortunately, churches want to turn this into a this is better than that issue or worse, turn it into a doctrinal issue. Or they may stick with one because of tradition. I think many churches would benefit if they did both. Not the small churches, obviously, since the whole church might a “small group,” but some people may find it easier to attend Sunday school than to attend a small group during the week. On the other hand, the teachers of children’s Sunday school classes, the greeters at the door, people who work on Sunday morning, and others, may be unable to participate in a small group that meets on Sunday morning. And if classroom space is an issue, why not have some of the classes with retired people in them meet during the week? While the rest of us are at work, they could be meeting for class.
Another thing, there are some small churches that might benefit from having classes that they can share with other churches. A Bible study group that meets during the week could easily have people from more than one church. Or maybe the leaders of several small churches get together for a small group of their own. They might be able to discuss topics that the average church member knows little about.
Instead of taking a “our way is the right way” attitude, why don’t we look at the needs of individuals and develop small groups that fit their situation, so they will be able to participate?