Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why Small Groups Don't Work in America, Reason #1

A pastor confesses that he can’t figure out how to make groups work. A popular author grabs a confession and says “See, small groups don’t work. You need to do it my way instead.” Another labels groups as a fad of the last decade. Another leader claims that small groups are small enough to care but not large enough to do anything. Then one of the most prominent churches that promoted small groups and developed an extensive network of churches for small group training is no longer doing groups.

It seems like many people are jumping into the blog world to announce that their experience reveals that small groups don’t work in America. They proclaim the demise of groups as if their point of view is the gospel truth. And the sad thing is that we embrace their limited point of view as if it is as valid as any other. Welcome to the post-modern world of flat information dissemination. Everyone is an expert. Or so it seems.

But we need to have something that helps us discern the elements of truth that these small group obituaries contain and try to understand why groups did not work in these specific situations.

The truth is that groups DON’T often work in America. But that does not mean that they CAN’T work. We have to do the hard work of trying to figure out why they don’t work. Over the next few days, I will be addressing a few things that undermine groups in America. Please understand that reasons I will state are not so much about strategies as much as they are about how we approach our strategies. Here’s the first:

Reason #1 that Groups Don’t Work in America: Fad Hopping
The leadership of the church moves on to other emphases. When groups were the hot fad and big churches were promoting them and writing new books on why we should develop groups, it was easy to embrace them as central to church life. But when the excitement wanes, leadership moves on to something else that claims to be able to turn a church around. I recently learned that one of the flagship small group churches in North America, one that hosted annual conference on groups and even started an organization to help other churches develop groups, no longer emphasize home cell groups.

I have seen many churches in America fail at groups because they saw them as a fad and then moved on to other things that promised greater results. Sadly, in the 1990s and early 2000s, many were promoting groups as the best way to grow the church, including yours truly. And many jumped on this bandwagon because they thought that they could enter into the land of success. And when that did not pan out like they expected, they jumped on the next one that passed by.

Groups work! And they can be done, even in America, in a way that brings growth. But they work and grow because we invest in them over the long haul. They are not a magic formula for church growth and health. They are not a fad. Far from it. For the last 50-60 years, the American church has seen about four or five waves of interest in groups


Adam Parker said...

Wow, well put Scott!

I'm curious what church you are referring to? I am sure you aren't wanting to slander them, but I would love to look into their reasoning or what they are doing now. I have known several churches that have done the whole "fad of the week" discipleship method.

I am a big group proponent, but they certainly have challenges. I'm excited about what the future brings!

Thanks for sharing as always!

Scott Boren said...

Adam, I have not done thorough research on this church and what they are doing in relationship to groups. But it has come to me through good sources that Bethany World Prayer Center in Baton Rouge, LA is no longer focusing on groups.