It’s not as if this is new information, but simply my reflections on a discipleship process that we have been utilizing for quite some time. This is not a definitive list of either pros or cons, feel free to add your own in the comments.
Let’s get the bad news over with first:
1. Formation of cliques. This is especially true when your small groups form around what Willow Creek defines as an Affinity Group. Same age-range, same ministry involvement, same worship style preference or same gender even. While close-knit groups are what we want, groups that are closed to those of a minority opinion are prone to become a group for themselves.
2. Hotbed for disunity. This is a particular type of #1. Cliques can be of all types, but this specific type is extremely destructive. These groups will, over time, utilize their relationships to undermine and divide the church. This is not because they want to harm the church (usually), but because they disagree with the leadership about that which they care most about – the Church of Jesus Christ, and due to their agreement with one another have felt empowered to lead their small “church” in a different direction than the church at large is going.
3. Greater potential for unchecked heresy. When the teaching is happening from the pulpit, generally speaking, the most biblically-educated individual in the church is the one doing the teaching (the check for heresy in this position is a multitude of “Bereans” who check what the preacher says against the word, and hopefully a denominational hierarchy that can correct abuses). In a small group, however, the one facilitating the discussion and those sharing their opinions and perspectives are of more equal authority in interpretation. In this type of situation, the more forceful leader rather than the more accurate insight quite often wins the day.
4. Pooling of ignorance. This is a generalization of #3. If everyone knows nothing, it is difficult to add them together and come up with something, and even harder to come up with the right thing.
5. Staying in the wading pool. Starting small is important, staying shallow is unhealthy. The best antidotes for this are
A. a well-trained facilitator
B. a service-orientation, where the group performs ministry together on at least a bi-annual basis.
C. a mix of topical and exegetical studies
D. ending each group with a simple question of, “What’s your take-away from tonight?” Then following up as to application.
Everything cuts both ways, and in this situation, I definitely believe that the pros outweigh the cons dramatically:
1. Opportunity for the “one another”s. There are 38 Bible verses that deal with how we are to be in relationship with one another according to http://voices.yahoo.com/38-one-another-bible-verses-5549719.html Small Groups are the best place (other than of course your own family – a great place to practice your faith :-)) to learn to “love one another”, “show mercy and compassion to one another”, etc. Rubber-meeting-road and all of that.
2. Involvement of all participants. Unless your church is 15 people or fewer, there is no healthy and orderly way to involve everyone in a deep and meaningful way each week. In a Small Group each person has an opportunity to add their two cents worth, and to have their concerns/problems/issues addressed, as well as their praises celebrated.
3. Individual/corporate application within a community. See #5D above.
4. Greater dissemination to the community. Think of irrigating a field with sprinklers opposed to leaving the water hose running in one spot. With Small Groups you are able to have an even dispersal of ministry throughout the greater community instead of saturating one spot/group of people/area of your community to the point of flooding.
5. Hotbed for leadership development. I highly encourage a “church of small groups” model (Check out “Building a Church of Small Groups” by Donahue and Robinson) blended with Serendipity’s leadership model of those groups. Having a Leader, a Teacher and an Encourager (and possibly a Host/Hostess) spreads out the leadership burden, creates an automatic small group and allows people to ease into their giftings, and can be more fully utilized in the church at large as their skills develop.
6. System for communication of needs/problems/successes. Every church struggles to remain current (no I’m not speaking specifically about computer systems or internet savvy) with the life events of its members. Small Groups can become a conduit whereby the appropriate church ministry is informed of events in their Small Group’s members’ lives…if the leader is organized and remembers to communicate.
7. Friends. Possibly the single greatest reason to move to this style of discipleship is relational connectivity.
So what are your pros and cons of Small Group ministry?