What big church & small church can’t do: The call of medium-sized groups

There are two tasks that are absolutely integral to building strong Christian movements, believing individuals and solid families:

  1. Helping people move from a very large group comfortably into small groups in a way that seems relationally natural.
  2. Delivering important educational content necessary for full Christian transformation.

Small group communities and large group worship services have a hard time addressing these tasks. On one level I really wish that large group worship services and small groups were sufficient to meet the ministry needs of families and individuals. It would be so much simpler from an organizational and leadership perspective to have ministries to adults, youth and children based on these two types of environments. But there are a couple of problems.

The Relationship Issue

The first issue is relational. How does somebody who is genuinely new and not particularly outgoing – that is, most people – get situated into a small group community of people in a relationally natural way? Sometimes we forget how hard it is to start conversations with people we don’t know. I’ve gone to Desiring God conferences that drew more than 1,000 people who were extremely committed to Jesus and who had many of the same passions as me. But even though I’m a pastor and have to start relationships all the time, at the conference I talked to almost no one and had no meaningful relational interactions. It was awkward for me to approach a group, and no group ever invited me in. Yet it was likely the largest gathering of mature Christians I’ve ever attended. So what do we do with that?

This is why many churches and small group programs have recognized the usefulness of medium-sized groups – ministries or groups that have intentional social events that are designed to create easy and natural social interaction between people who don’t know each other. People go around and introduce themselves, there are shared food lines and built-in meals, people are put on teams for structured activities – and so forth. They are groups where you can know no one and leave knowing someone. Once you have met two or three people, it’s completely natural to show up at someone’s house on a particular day and ring the bell. If three people in the house know you and are going to welcome you and talk to you, it’s not a particularly daunting situation.

But if you check on a card at church that you’d like to be put in a small group and you receive an address through email, that’s a little bit different. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we can hardly expect them to show up with any kind of reasonable consistency. Ultimately, they’ll just disappear. The pragmatic reality of the business of church is that our greatest early commodity is friendship. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like that fact – if we offer friendship, people will stay. If we don’t, they will leave.

The Trying to Meet Everyone’s Enrichment Needs Issue

That would be enough of a reason to have medium-sized groups. But there is another important reason: people have some important enrichment needs that are not conducive to either Sunday morning preaching or the sorts of studies and learning that happen in small groups. Sunday morning sermons need to stay on task with biblical content and exposition. Preaching sermon series after sermon series on four or five particular subjects can get very old and tired after a few years.

Some churches order all of their preaching around a fairly small group of subjects – not because they don’t like preaching the Bible, but because they have recognized the importance of these areas of enrichment. I believe these enrichment opportunities are better suited to medium-sized environments. A few of these would be:

  • Parenting – biblical perspective and practical tactics
  • Marriage – rescue and enrichment
  • Financial freedom – for moral freedom, conflict avoidance and the possibility of generosity
  • Spiritual and personal growth – what people need to function well in church and in small groups, as well as in life (the “basics”)
  • Roles, work and vocation – how to help people joyfully accept their life, particularly what they do with the best hours of their day, whether they are a stay-at-home mom, a military general, a custodian or a businessman
  • Biblical masculinity and femininity – what does it mean biblically to be a masculine man or a feminine female the way God intended, so that the genders are truly and fully complementary, and stronger as allies rather than as enemies?

These important areas of enrichment and education better fit medium-sized groups for two reasons.

  1. They are often better addressed by specific medium-sized groups. For example, at High Point Church it would make sense that Family Life Connection would be the point ministry for parenting and marriage enrichment. The medium-sized group is the most intuitive place for people to take personal responsibility for these areas. You can also see how it makes sense that men’s ministry would be the medium-sized group that goes after biblical masculinity, and women’s ministry biblical femininity. These two groups may also address roles. Some of the other areas may need to be addressed in medium-sized classes, like the Adult Bible Fellowships.
  2. Medium-sized groups can offer these sorts of classes repetitively in relationship to people’s felt needs; the medium-sized groups then become more ready environments that include new people naturally. If they are pointing people toward the larger church and toward small groups by offering these necessary areas of enrichment, they can be strengthened and yet support the larger movement of the church and include people in the meaningful relationships of long-term small groups.

The most important point here is that medium-sized groups need to stay focused. They need to know what they’re doing and what they’re not doing. They need to know how they function in the larger ministry of the gospel movement at a particular church. And they need to focus not just on their role but on how their role connects to the other roles in ministries at High Point.

If this is the case, I can see medium-sized ministries flourishing without a lot of staff involvement in ways that dramatically help us assist people to connect, grow and serve, mainly through Sunday morning and small groups. It will diminish the busyness and activities of medium-sized groups while increasing their importance and focusing their scope.

My hope is this will make leadership in medium-sized groups more fun and more meaningful while strengthening the body more effectively, and creating and fostering more unity.

One thought on “What big church & small church can’t do: The call of medium-sized groups”

  1. I completely agree with what you share here. Senior ministry is another example of a medium sized group. One major challenge as I see it is that these groups tend to gravitate into replacements for small groups.

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