Ed Stetzer, Micah Fries, and I are currently working on a new book, Transformational Groups, based on insights gleaned from a massive research project conducted on small groups (including classes, Bible fellowships, etc). In one phase of the research, the research team at LifeWay Research surveyed and interviewed people who were once in a group but are not currently involved in a group. The good news is that the majority of people said that they would return to being in a group if they were invited.
They also offered insights as to what they’re longing for in a small group.
Most likely those who joined a group were told, “the way to really get connected and be known in our church is to join a group.” They likely joined a group with the expectation and desire for relationships, but it doesn’t seem the group experience delivered on that promise. In our interviews, they indicated that they wanted more involvement with the people outside of the Bible study time. When asked what makes a great group leader, a “strong Bible teacher” was ranked very low and “someone who connects people” was ranked the highest. These responses indicated a deep desire for community within a small group.
Obviously we’re not articulating, nor do we believe the respondents were articulating, that Bible teaching isn’t important. Community is only as strong as what it’s built upon; therefore, for community to be strong it must be grounded in the Word. However, one of the advantages of a small group is that the people can discuss truth together, and they can wrestle with passages together. The small group doesn’t need to be a monologue. People who move from a worship gathering to a small group are likely not thinking they’re going to receive a lecture.
Respondents indicated that they want Bible study that applies to them right now. They want to understand how the timeless truth they’re discussing impacts their lives today. Groups should be able to deliver on both relationships and application. And the two are related. Application always increases in the context of relationships. As the group discusses Scripture, individuals are able to ask questions, encourage one another, and challenge one another to apply the truth.
Are the groups at your church structured to facilitate relationships? Are the leaders trained to connect people together? Is time given for discussion so that the group members may apply biblical truths in their own and one another’s lives?