Why your church needs small groups.
Studies have shown that visitors come to your church for three main reasons:
- A few, 6 - 8 %, just walk in because the church is in their neighborhood and it is connected to their background either denominationally or theologically.
- Some 8 -12% have heard about the Pastor on the radio, television, or through the community.
- But most, 70 -80 %, come because they were invited by a friend or relative.
That’s how they get in the first time. But what is it that makes them want to come back and perhaps become active members?
They either have a relationship with someone in the church or they expect to be able to develop relationships with people in the church.
Then, after they are in the church for about six months, they may question their commitment:
- Am I needed?
- Can I make friends?
- Where do I fit in?
Then after they have been there a year they might ask a different set of questions:
- Is my work appreciated?
- Are my friends in church as good as my friends in the world?
- Does the church fit my needs?
Small groups provide the means to respond to these concerns and even avoid them entirely.
The normal person can know about 70 people on a social level. It is possible to be close friends with up to about 14 - 17 people. And we can be deeply close with only a few.
There are three primary levels of personal relationships;
- and intimate.
Notice that Jesus had three deeply close disciples, twelve that He knew intimately, seventy that were part of His ministry team, and hundreds of followers.
Community gives us an identity and the realization there are others like us. It provides opportunities to be with others who share our interests. Communities are usually established based upon a common background.
If our church commitment never moves beyond community it is unlikely that relationships with fellow church members will ever grow beyond a casual nod once a week on Sunday morning.
The second level of relationship is social and is generally made up of groups of people who are socially acquainted. Each person knows everyone else, generally by name. It is almost impossible for an outsider not to be immediately identified.
In churches, social relationships are encouraged through Sunday school classes, Men's and Women's fellowships, the choir, committee meetings and social events such as potlucks, bowling or softball. Any newcomer who is willing has the opportunity to enter into the group and get acquainted. These groups actually become small congregations and are useful in satisfying the need for assimilating new members into the body.
For many of us, our life is filled with social obligations. We spend time running from one event to another from one meeting to the next. We run to choir practice, to Boy Scouts, to Little League practice, to the neighbor’s party, etc.
But even with all these activities, people are still lonely. So they sign up for new activities hoping that will satisfy their loneliness. Yet the more social events they attend, the lonelier they become.
Years ago the need for intimacy was satisfied by the extended family, those close friends and family members with whom we had developed trust and confidence.
Today with our transient, fast-paced and troubled society, families are spread across the country, people are too busy to really get to know their neighbors and too fearful in some areas to go outside.
As a result, the lack of intimate loving relationships has become one of the chief contributors to problems of sexual immorality, mental health and substance abuse as people search the wrong places for meaningful and loving relationships.
To paraphrase Jesus, "the greatest commandment is to love God completely, and your neighbor as you love yourself. This implies intimate, honest and safe relationships.
We are called into relationship with God and relationship with others. Both relationships must be more than a superficial, social relationship. The relationships need to be loving and above all trusting where we can be honest, objective and fearless. It is impossible to develop these deep relationships in large groups. That is why social activities generally fail in drawing people close together.
Small groups provide the opportunity for people to develop intimate, trusting, and honest relationships, vertical with God and horizontal with others.
They provide the glue that will hold a body together.
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