God has supernaturally designed community to mature His people. The writer of Hebrews stated, “Encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Hebrews 3:13). Community centered on Jesus is what keeps our hearts soft and moldable before the Lord.
Isolation hardens us. Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.”
I have been involved in a massive research project on small groups with Ed Stetzer (a book is forthcoming). In the research we discovered that people in a small group compared to those who are not in a small group:
- Read the Bible more
- Pray more
- Confess sins and repent more often
- Share the gospel much more
- Give more generously
- Serve more regularly
But a key question church leaders wrestle with is “Why aren’t more people in our groups?” There are a plethora of answers and each context is different, but here are three general things learned from our research on why more people are not in a small group.
1 – They don’t believe groups are important to the church.
There is a gap in the perceived importance of groups between the church leaders and the people in the church. The majority of pastors say that groups are important to the church, but the majority of church attendees say that they don’t sense groups are a priority to the church. Church leaders would be wise to ramp up the amount of energy and investment directed toward small groups.
2 – They don’t believe groups are important to their lives.
When we asked people what they wanted in a group, the majority of respondents indicated that they wanted Bible study that applies to them right now. They are massively busy and wonder how this group experience is going to impact their lives at the moment. Evidently some are hesitant to join a group because their impression of the group is that it is going to be a download of information that is divorced from real life. This is where small groups can deliver because application always increases in the context of relationships. As the group discusses the Scripture, individuals are able to ask questions, encourage one another, and challenge one another to apply truth to their lives.
3 – They have not been invited.
Some good news from our research is that the majority of those who are not in a small group said they would attend a group if they were invited. There are people in your church right now who would join a group if someone relationally shepherded them in that direction. Church leaders must create a culture where people are invited, have systems in place that help new people get connected, and regularly launch new groups.
I recently shared the above information at the Bible Studies for Life webcast. You can watch the webcast here.