Stop the “Small Group” Facade

I am just going to say it… Small groups and small group ministries within church organizations need to be terminated.  Yes, I said it… nixed, annihilated.

They simply do not work. 

Small groups create disciples as much as working at McDonald’s creates quality 5-star chefs.  Small groups do not create disciples; disciples create disciples.  And the way small groups are led within the walls of most institutions I know of or have been a part of, are typically led by people who have attended that particular church, had some sort of “conversion” experience within the walls, probably led a reasonably moral life, and knows how to read study-guide questions.  However, in all actuality most of them are nowhere near disciples themselves.

From my experience, I would say most American churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to a ridiculous level. Church staff has lowered the bar to the point that I feel the whole church organization would be better off not even offering small groups at all than to have so-called leaders who are nowhere near a disciple of Christ lead them.

I think these small groups get started on the wrong foot.. because the foot is human.

The way I see small groups forming is by a bunch of well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest “Christian” fad they learned from a weekend conference that stressed some sort of organizational theory that persuaded their pragmatic hearts into believing they themselves could actually organize, measure, and control the unseen power of The Holy Spirit.

Many institutional churches believe this crap.  If a person can read, they can lead.  Ever heard that one before? 

I remember going to leadership training and 90% of the classes were how to come up with and perform “ice-breakers” to get the group to know each other.  Wow, I look back on how scripted everything was to get people to like you and to like Christ … what a bunch of bullshit that is.

Looking back on my 10 years heavily involved in “institutional” church thinking, here is on thing I noticed since I cleared my mind after leaving.  The groups of people who helped me grow as a disciple started out by what appeared to be an accident.  I never grew spiritually from some fake church-wide small group initiative the senior pastor or marketing team thought up to help grow “small group” attendance… because they heard some top-notch church analysts say they should maintain a certain “worship-small group” ratio each and every week.  

I can only speak for myself, but let me know if you have felt similar.  I felt myself growing spiritually when I was not even looking for it.  There were times I was not even remotely interested in joining a small group.  Most of the time, when I was not participating, and I was just getting together with people just out of the pure joy of being together with them in Christ (and with no curriculum, or agenda), it just happened… naturally and spontaneously.

Within all the small group studies I have been a part of, and there were a bunch, I never felt like anyone ever wanted to break the surface and actually open their hearts with one another.  Until a community is based on Christ and is Christ focused alone, people will never break the surface.  In other words, you get great surface friendships from these groups, but do you really ever grow as His Body?

So, I see disciples being created “outside”.  Small groups, by their “church” practice, mostly occur “inside”.

As a joke, I think.  Small groups are wonderful at producing Christians who can sit in a circle and talk to one another inside a building, and while they are sitting in a building they can comment on the Bible together.  Then you hear them spouting over and over how they long to “get outside” and do something that matters, and then never do.  Then these small group people awkwardly end their time by praying for “prayer requests”.  See my post on how much I dislike “prayer requests”. 

So here is a question for you.   Do you honestly think Jesus would either join, lead, or even start a small group within the structure of an institutional church’s small group ministry? 

If so, please explain… I say hell would freeze over first.

(Disclaimer.. I am not saying we should never get together in groups … far from it.  I do believe we were created to be together as His Body in community, just not by human-made “Christian” concepts)

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21 thoughts on “Stop the “Small Group” Facade

  1. Spoken fervently from the heart of a man that has spent REAL time with the Holy Spirit and come away finding institutional religion lacking the heart and integrity of honest belief in a relational Christ.

    Swanny is da man!

  2. Your blog makes me smile. You often say what I’d like to say – but I’m still fellow-shipping mostly with those who value the IC, and don’t want to be too harsh.

    We always talk about the body being made of many different members, and each one is important. We think of roles for the head, hands, feet… But maybe there is value in some members stepping up and being the A** hole. 🙂 This may be your spiritual gift… I suspect you won’t be offended. Think about it. Every body needs a body part that helps get all the crap out. 🙂

    It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

    See, I can’t do it, I can’t even write the word I’m referring to. Anyways, don’t be offended, I have a sick sense of humor. Good post, God bless!

    1. Jonathan – Absolutely no offense taken. You get me. I am allergic to bullshit, and the only way to clean it up it to expose some of the BS that makes my allergies blow up.

      I speak what is actually on my heart and mind. However, when I write I never talk about the individuals within the system, I talk about the system itself. I too fellowship with others that are still part of these programs and involved in the “institution”. I still see them as part of the Body of Christ. The people I love dearly, and they know where I stand on things, and they know in my heart I care and love them. They just agree to disagree with me, and that’s cool.

      In the end (no pun intended) .. it is all about Christ, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

      Thanks for taking time to read my blog, and understand where I am coming from.

  3. If small groups are so wonderful and nourishing and productive, then why is it so hard to get people to participate in them? And why is it so hard to keep them going? If it’s life-giving, people will come and participate because they find life there. (This has been our experience at my church. Maybe others are different. It just seems that we are continually beating a dead horse with this small group business…)

    jhutton, I laughed out loud at your comment about needing a body part to get all the crap out!! Thanks for starting my day off well!! I will meditate on this ALL day long, and smile in such a way that people will wonder…

    1. Martha – Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Welcome.

      From my experience, small groups committees are focused on the multiplication factor of numbers, not on finding the hearts of the Body. That to me is the dead horse they are beating.

      And yes, if I was drinking a coke when I read Jonathan’s post it would have flew right out my nose.. it was really funny.

      1. When our church first decided to do small groups, we weren’t allowed to say that we were “dividing” up into groups. We were “multiplying”… (eye roll here).

      2. Martha – Then the natural thing to do is to create a skit re-enacting Grease (God Style) for Sunday morning worship called .. You’re the one that I want! Then they start singing.. I got chills they’re multiplyin’, and I’m losing control…

  4. I try very hard to stay out of this stuff because it makes me crazy.

    My response to the subject on Jeremy Myer’s FB post:

    For true introverts we must make exceptions. Having said that, if you’re not actively involved in the lives, issues, challenges, and successes of your family, neighbors, and colleagues then you DO NOT qualify as someone that understands the intent of “small groups.” THAT is your “small group”. And I’m not pissed at people that attend “small groups” in church. I’m pissed that organized religious institutions continue to market such utter BS as a means of monitoring and controlling THEIR message…not THE message. But what do I know? I’m a jaded cynic whose been shit on so many times by well-intentioned “church folk” bred out of the same “small groups” that we’re discussing that I refuse to call this Christianity. It is unChristian. It is self-serving. It is religious idolatry. Bah! Do whatever you want.

    Martha nailed it. Those are the questions we need to be asking.

  5. Wow. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but my small group experiences have been the exact opposite of that. I’ve often felt very nourished by small-group activity, a chance to just get together and talk and get to know one another.

    “Do you honestly think Jesus would either join, lead, or even start a small group within the structure of an institutional church’s small group ministry?”

    A trick question. This is assuming that every single congregation is terrible, oppressive, and resistant to change, which is of course very far from the truth.

    Do I think Jesus would start a small group? Given that He did just that with the 12, I would have to say “yes”. Do I think He would be led to do it within a hugely damaged, hypocritical, damaging congregation? No, of course not; I think His Plan would be larger than that, and, very similar to what He did with the 12 (and later, Paul) would find the most unlikely candidates (ones even you may be surprised by, Swanny) to take on the role of His “small group”. I think He would heal and help all who asked…be they Baptist, emergent, atheist, or what-have-you. I think He would judge the clearly unrighteous for what they are…but I also think He would help heal those who need it the most, like the woman at the well or Mary Magdalene.

    But let’s, for argument’s sake, say you’re right, and all this needs to be destroyed. We burn the church buildings, break up the small groups, kill all denominational doctrine, and basically do away with all that.

    What would be your personal, ideal situation for the Church, Swanny? What would you, personally, like the Bride to look like? More importantly, what steps would you personally take to make that dream come true? Would you be *willing* to take the necessary steps to get whatever it is started?

    (BTW, have you ever heard of the Emergent Church? I think it would fit you a lot better. You could even look into starting one in your area. It’s all about being anti-institutional when it comes to congregations. 🙂 )

    1. Lady Tam Li – There is a lot here and I will try to discuss different parts of your post.

      I will start off with a question. When you say you felt nourished by small group activity, define nourished, and explain?

      Next, you said I asked a trick question, and then assumed every “congregation” is terrible. You are looking at it from the aspect of the people. I am nowhere talking about the people that make up the Body. I am talking about the institutional system that is ran behind the scenes within the institutional walls. I cannot judge the people involved, but I can give my opinion on how bad the system sucks.

      You mention Christ’s 12 disciples. They were no where near what a “small group” is within our western American churches. Cannot even compare the two.

      You asked me what my ideal situation for church would be. Well, the answer to that is no flipping clue. That is the whole problem with many Christians today, a lot of them think we can conjure up some method or structure that would make THEIR ideal “church”. God already has His church made … His name is Christ. Christ just IS… His Church just IS.

      I do not want any part of the Emergent church, or any (fill in the blank) Church. I am not trying to find a church that fits me better. The Church is already there and I am just a part of it.

  6. I hate the whole idea of small groups. We get together in a group, read a trendy book (something Don Miller or John Piper or Beth Moore perhaps) and then participate in stupid and shallow study questions. It’s school. It’s not discipleship. And it’s shitty school at that.

    I want to be mentored and discipled, but I am TOTALLY turned off by small groups. I’d rather have a mom figure close in her walk with Christ take me under her wing than attend something so fucking shallow.

    1. Ashley – Welcome, and thanks for commenting.

      I am completely with you on this subject. It is nothing but surface subjects that get boring and stale real quick. If people would take the time to look into each others heart and actually be transparent about the shitty things they struggle with, I feel community would then be built.

      If you do the surface stuff with no depth, you just become really awesome at bible jeopardy games.

  7. I agree with many of the criticisms made here, especially the one regarding the church lowering the bar with their small group leaders. I’ll expose my bias by sharing that I am a small group pastor, so obviously I believe in them. When they’re done right, I believe they can be a place of authentic community. One of the ways I gauge if my group meeting was successful is if I can think of moments where people got “beneath the surface.” I also share that standard in my training session using those exact words. I also train my group leaders to have their small group adopt one community project every 12 weeks as a group.

    Thanks for posting and thanks for being real!

    1. pastormason – Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post. Welcome.

      I too agree so much about the surface living many groups tend to live at… and until the surface is broken and the heart is exposed.. there will not be a community in Him.

  8. I really liked this post. I have been a small group pastor before and have led/participated in various groups and have just never felt like they were up to snuff. Possibly because of the artificiality. Forced “community” and “authenticity” usually end up being the opposed of authentic. Honestly, I thought the old Sunday school model was better than these night-time home groups. There was far less pressure to “do life” with a bunch of strangers.

    1. Mallory – Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment. Welcome.

      I agree.. forced anything never really seems to work well. “doing life” at set times seems really odd to me.

    2. Mallory, although it’s a bummer you had a negative experience, revival is breaking out in Asia and South America through the ministry of small groups. Maybe the problem lies within our American Christian culture that spends more time acting fake and criticizing church than praying and serving others. As long as I see disciples made within our small group ministry it was always remain a priority to me.

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