Posted by: Justin Wallace | February 9, 2011

Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups

*The following post was written by Brian Jones, founding pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, Pennsylvania.

A few years ago I brought in a nationally recognized pastor to do some consulting for our church. One of the things I remember most about my time with him was a side conversation we had about small groups.

“I haven’t really figured out the small group thing,” I confessed to him.

“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago—small groups just aren’t working.”

“Finally,” I said, “I’ve met someone who’s got the guts to euthanize this small group sacred cow.”

I have been leading, participating in, championing, and applauding the efforts of small groups for the last 20 years of my ministry.

But now I’m done. In my opinion, they just don’t work. Let me share why.

Continue Reading…

Our staff here in Charlotte is having this conversation right now. What’s the future of small groups? Are we pushing superficial community? Should we just allow community to form and when we see it, cheer it on? This is a tough conversation…I’m not sure there is a right or wrong…but it’s a worthy topic.

So, what do you think?


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Responses

  1. I think a few statements he makes need some qualifying:

    “Those experiences couldn’t have been planned, even if I tried. And for the most part, that’s exactly how it’s been happening in the Christian community for, say, I don’t know, the last 1,960 years. ”

    Before this he talked about his experience in a small group that just happened, as if by accident. I would like some evidence of this “small group by accident” idea being the norm in church history. He goes on to complain that we “Westerners” messed it up. Again, what exactly does that mean, seeing as how the Church has been a force in Western culture since…at least Charlemagne in 800 AD. I do not think “small groups” as we have them have been the norm at all, whether planned or by accident. Some people who sought serious discipleship probably joined monasteries (and I bet they joined on purpose). I could go on, but my point is comments like that are a bit too hyperbolic.

    I think the question “Would Jesus join a small group in your church?” is also flawed. By that logic, no one should get married (Jesus was not married). I could mention other examples. It also begs the question that while Jesus certainly spent a lot of time doing ministry in the community, he also spent a lot of time with his disciples in private which does seem to constitute a small group (and one formed on purpose).

    My opinion of the article in general is that he seems to go to an extreme, either/or position: in the past small groups were essential (one extreme) so now get rid of them completely (the other extreme). I attend a church which is only about five years old and new small groups keep popping up every few months. The groups seem quite different from what Brian talks about in the article as they are encouraged to go out and do ministry, the leader is not required to be a great teacher, and new people in church, even non-Christians, are encouraged to join.

    As for campus ministry, we do not really do small groups anyway. Our campus is mostly only freshman and sophomores, a small campus so our “large” group itself is often rather “small”. That said, sometimes small groups have formed, like Brian said, as if by accident. And that is great. Other times people plan to start a group…that is great too.

    I think there is an undercurrent of emotionalism in this article; an idea that if you have to plan ahead then it is not spirit-driven or something. Reminds me of NT Wright’s book After You Believe. He points out that a lot of Christians in America think that to be a real Christian is to follow your feelings (which are from the Spirit after all) and if we have to make plans, be disciplined and the like then we are not “spiritual”. I see that in this article, a sort of false idea that if we just drift through life we’ll fall into discipleship by accident. Of course, we do not do that with anything else in life; we don’t just sit down at a piano and expect the spirit to lead us to playing Beethovan perfectly.

    • Great thoughts Dave. Our staff discussed this article and arrives and very similar conclusions.

      I think it’s important to have this conversation. Asking…why do we do what we do? Is it effective? Are we forcing community (a square peg into a circle hole)? Can we celebrate and embrace the community that is already taking place?

      Those were just a few questions we discussed as a staff.

  2. Oh yeah, I definitely agree. It almost seemed like he was being intentionally extreme and using hyperbole to shake people out of a stupor. It is so easy, even in campus ministry, to just do what we have always done. Sometimes in-your-face articles like this are necessary to wake people up.

  3. Wow. I’ve had a question about small groups validity in the back of my mind for a while now. This article speaks to a lot of the things I’ve been thinking through.

    I think alot of freshman arriving at college today have been a part of the ‘small group’ model in the church they grew up in – and it was LAME. They yearn for authentic community, not something forced on them. I’m tempted to cut it loose and let it happen ‘organically’ (to use a church/culture buzzword).

    Great post. I love this blog.

    • Organic community is scary! It removes the control from my hands and I like control.

      Anyone else?

  4. […] You can read more of Brian Jones’ story here… Link to this post! […]

  5. […] You can read more of Brian Jones’ story here… This entry was posted in Blog, Monday Morning Insight. Bookmark the permalink. ← Should we tax churches? Prayer Request – Launching The Journey – Boca Raton this Sunday → […]

  6. Thanks for the links to this article. I’m in a church w/weekly attendance of approx 100 to 110, and one of our most successful small groups started organically with 3 men meeting for coffee at a local Starbucks just for accountability. We sensed the Holy Spirit tell us to open up to other men, but we were reluctant at first. However, once we did, we doubled in size, and now, nearly 2 years later, it’s a sermon-based men’s small group that meets at 5:15 am at Starbucks, with attendance between 12 to 16 men each week. In fact, it’s become a front door to our men’s ministry and has been instrumental in closing the back door for many newer men that have come to the church in the past year.

    Was it scary? Absolutely.

    Have we started other groups organically? Yes – and it was successful for male teens looking for guidance from older men (we have a younger men’s small group now that started organically).

    But…we are now struggling with finding the right way to be intentional about starting other small groups for women and for couples, partly because there hasn’t been the same connections…yet.

    That said, in addition to these groups we have several duos and trios of men and women in gender specific discipleship groups, one-on-one, meeting weekly for 6 to 12 months and being accountable to each other. These are grown organically, and the results have been tremendous in terms of folks moving along a path of spiritual growth.

    While I find Jones’ comments to be pushing the bounds of hyperbole, I think he has valid points. If effective discipleship is to occur, the bar for leaders (or disciplers) needs to be set higher than just someone who can read and lead from a DVD curriculum. The leaders should have been discipled in a one-on-one or trio setting, having experienced life together with other Christians further along on their journey, before being released to do the same for Christians that aren’t as far along in their walk.

    Perhaps the it isn’t about euthanizing small groups as it is about euthanizing the small group structure/model prevalent in many churches, and encouraging them to go smaller and do more one-on-one discipleship.

  7. For Stillwaters Church ( a student church movement in Manila) over 80% of those involved become believers through our ministry. So first of all, we don’t “baby sit”, Christians.

    So for these new believers, being in a small group as their introduction to church is very powerful. A safe place with a few other people just beginning their journey with Christ.

    From there, they move into a wider community of the worship service and the places where our students hang out. As they become a part of the church and finish the basics of the Christian life, they are given the option to continue in a discipleship group, but with higher levels of commitment to walk with Christ. It’s not a group to feel good, but were you are with like-hearted people who really want to experience Christ and make Him known in deep ways.

    There is no pressure to these groups, just invitations. But expectations and purpose are very clear.

    Once our churches get to around 50 students, then some of the members branch off and start a new church. And these students lead and do everything in the church, including the preaching. Each church has a different flavor, depending on the one’s leading it and it’s community.

    Personally i would never have a small group of church members in an existing church, unless part of its purpose was to begin a new church or minister to a particular community. I agree that the typical church/Christian organization’s small groups are dead ends.

  8. […] Pastor Brain Jones had a question to ask about small groups, and this is how the conversation went:         “I haven’t really figured out the small group thing,” I confessed to him. […]

  9. The irony is that I personally know a church in Royersford PA that was founded on small groups and it is flourishing. Where in the Bible does it say or command that people must come to a church to experience and grow in the Christian faith? The early church met in homes and so should we. No one can manufacture the Holy Spirit but we are commanded to disciple our neighbors, many whom will not never go to church.


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