The points that Jim Davis presents are well worth considering. While I understand the intent of small groups and see them as historically sound, from Zinzendorf to Wesley, I believe that the points that Davis presents here are dead on where many churches have dropped the ball: Biblical knowledge, Developing of Teaching Gifts, Deeper Community, Cultural Engagement, and fulfilling the Role of the Chruch.
1) Biblical Knowledge – Do a quick search on Biblical Illiteracy and more than 71,000 results come up. The first three listed are “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches“, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” and “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy.” It is recognized across the board that Biblical Illiteracy is a problem in the church today. Davis presents why the small group model is often not enough to counter this.
2) Developing of Teaching Gifts – Romans 12:6 – 8 tells us “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” While small groups have a reason for existing, they do not allow the opportunity for those with teaching gifts to truly exercise and develop them.
3) Deeper Community – As Davis states, this one seems counter intuitive. Most churches will tell you that one of the purposes of small groups is to develop community. Yet while it can produce relationships within the group, there are two clear negatives that seem to arise. First is that these relationships need to be organic to truly grow, yet most small groups are artificial in their development, put together by the church leadership. Second, when these relationships do flourish, it is very easy to not become a community of the church, but little communities (or cliques) within the church.
4) Cultural Engagement – Here is the purpose of gathering on Sunday morning. Ephesians 4:11 – 13 tells us, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Sunday morning is the time to “equip his people for works or service.” Here God’s people come together to learn, to fellowship, to be built up, so that they can, in turn, take Christ to the world. Yes, small groups can prepare members for this, but too often it is just a time to gather with their group of friends, thinking inward and not outward.
5) Fulfilling the Role of the Church – This is a natural follow-up to the previous point. The role of the church is to teach and build-up the body for service. It is not to entertain or to, as Davis puts it, play matchmaker. When the church fulfills its God given role, we may just find that what the small groups have tried to manufacture, God will grow organically.
Am I saying that this will solve everything? Am I giving a guarantee that what Davis has presented is indeed the answer to any challenges in the church? Of course not. No one can do this, and I certainly do not have all the answers. Yet I believe that we need to be open to honestly evaluate our current practices. Are we doing them because it has become what everyone else is doing? Is our current model truly accomplishing what we intend it to do?
Is there a place for small group? Yes. But are small groups the miracle answer that many have come to believe? No. Whether we choose to use small groups or not, I think Davis’ point of the importance of Sunday School can not be dismissed.
This fall we are going to do something that will seem crazy to many. We are going from a small group model to a Sunday school model (under a different name). Most church growth material over the past 20 years would advise against this move. We are a young, growing contemporary church. Why would we make that change? Here are five reasons.*
To Grow in Biblical Knowledge
The average committed evangelical today goes to church twice a month. Many churches don’t have an evening service so that means two times a month people are being taught the Bible. Couldn’t they just open a book? Yes, but most don’t.
Small groups are rarely times of Bible teaching, but Sunday school is. Small group leaders prepare for about 10 minutes while Sunday school teachers study and prepare all week. Beginning Sept. 10th, we will replace discussion groups about the sermons (which tend…
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