Church growth and small groups sound like swear words even to some Christians. Still present today, are the long standing concerns, about the so-called Church Growth Movement said to have emerged out of a school of thought that promoted deliberate and aggressive efforts at growing church membership.
This contemporary Movement has been associated with an American, Donald McGravan who served for 30 years as a missionary in India before embarking on developing an institute for training in church growth principles. His teachings which influenced the North American context has spread worldwide.
Church growth in itself, is a troublesome concept to grasp by those who do not hold to the approach of some Evangelical Christians to “evangelism and missions”. Where evangelistic effort is geared toward solely toward institutional expansion without respect for local culture and fueled by arrogance, church growth earns a bad name. It must be said that not all Evangelicals hold to contemporary notions of church growth either. And there are those who say they do, but their attitude reflect that they are Christians against church growth.
When the term “small groups” enter the discussion on growing churches or managing church growth one either receives skepticism or ambivalence from those who are yet to be convinced that the small group concept does work. Imagine then, trying to introduce the concept of church growth through the small groups method to a context where small groups is rooted in its history and has been dubbed a failure in that and similar contexts.
Notwithstanding the skepticism or ambivalence, global statistics show that some churches are experiencing phenomenal growth while others reflect a similarly dramatic decline in membership. Along with the worldwide growth of Charismatic – Pentecostal type churches came the realization that an authentic sense of community is not happening in tandem with the numerical growth. It has been found that the larger the group, the greater the distance among the membership where church growth is not managed.
Evidence of growth of churches in North America, Europe and Asia in particular speaks to the effectiveness of the small groups or cell groups method. Whether churches use small groups to drive their growth, or to provide care for members who gets lost in large groups, it is an important method worth considering. In some contexts, its a matter of revisiting an abandoned practice to see what lessons can be learnt from where we went wrong. A plethora of books on Small Groups Ministry records the mistakes, flops and successes of the Small Groups method and cell-churches.
My appreciation for building small groups has less to do with ‘driving growth’ for growths sake and everything to do with truly offering nurture to members in our congregations who are not being reached. It is in the offering of care, and the potential growth of individuals and community building that I believe the real success of church growth through small groups is to be found.
More to come on this issue as I work with a church to help them implement small groups to manage their growth and meet the needs of members who cannot be reached by one pastor and a few deacons.
Have you got any experience with Small Groups Ministry? Tell us what its like for you. Share both your positive and negative experiences with us.