Small group ministry

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2009 9 Pages

Theology - Miscellaneous


Generally speaking the influence of small groups within churches is increasing significantly. While some congregations do not see a high value in small groups and are consequently very slow to start and engage in small group ministry, others are so convinced of them that they claim that “small groups are the pillar of church growth.[1] ” Since there are such a variety of opinions about the usefulness and purpose of small groups, one may ask what exactly is a small group? What role does it play in the bigger picture of building the church? What is the biblical foundation for it? Do we need small groups? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a small group? Why do people oppose small groups? This research paper will on one hand answer these and other questions, and on the other hand demonstrate how small groups are an importance place for ministry, community and discipleship.

What is a Small Group? A variety of terms have been used synonymously with small groups. They have been called fellowship groups, yoke-fellow groups, action groups, sharing groups, koinonia groups, growth groups, etc.[2] However, most secular researchers define a small group as having at least three and no more than twelve or fifteen members.[3] With three members, coalitions can be formed and some kind of organization is present, manifested in some type of leadership. Too large of a group (more than twelve or fifteen members) inhibits the group members' ability to communicate with everyone else in the group.[4]

What is the vision/purpose of a small group? General speaking there are three different types of small groups, each with a different purpose: First, a work-group could be gathering signatures for a petition; second, a counselling-group (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) could be giving support and encouragement to one another as they deal with similar problems; and third, a social-group could be providing safety and solidarity needs and help to develop self-esteem and other such characteristics.[5] The purpose of a church-based small group would be “to stimulate the development of spiritual maturity and love to God and men through edification and discipleship,[6] to connect people relationally, to provide support, encouragement, and fellowship in order to glorify God and make disciples of all nations.[7] Manifesting this many-faceted goal, the church-based small group needs to engage in all three purposes: work, counsel, and social. Due to the complexity and profoundness of church-based small groups, Christian Schwarz calls them therefore “holistic small groups.”[8]

Why Small Groups? In Acts 2:46-47 we read that “every day they continued to meet together... and broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God enjoying the favour of all people.” The writer of Hebrews 10:24 said “let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” The concept of meeting together is stressed strongly in the New Testament, and indeed, the church is the meeting place of the followers of Christ. In and through those meetings, led by the pastor, we may be taught (Matthew 28:20), instructed (Romans 15:14), edified, comforted, strengthened (1 Corinthians 14:3), encouraged (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and loved (1 John 3.11). But what if the pastor cannot meet everyone personally to edify, strengthen, etc. because the congregation is too large?

As churches grow, the load of a pastor is increasingly unbearable. It would be unrealistic and unbiblical to expect that a pastor takes time for every single member in his congregation. This may be possible in a small-sized church (around 30 people) but is absolutely out of reality when the church grows larger. In order to maintain the absolute necessary and biblical pastoral care, “sub-leaders” or “sub-shepherds” need to be installed. Only if the load of care is shared on many shoulders, the people´s personal cares, concerns, and spiritual growth can be taken seriously. Neglecting this important principle, the people in the congregation may attend the church every Sunday and hear an amazing sermon but do not have the significant relationship with other believers that is crucial for growth; it will be impersonal. Even though they are at the ‘meeting-place’ they may not really ‘meet.’ Mark Driscoll, the head pastor of the 15,000 member Multi-Campus Mars Hill Church claimed: “I can declare with complete confidence that our people are better cared for now that our church is larger than when it was smaller. When our church was smaller I did the best I could, but in no way could I care for people as well as we do today as specialized teams [and small groups].”[9] A report from the Barna Group (2008) based on interviews with more than 3,000 adults confirm his statement.

“On all 9 of the belief statements tested, attendees of large churches were more likely than those engaged in a small or mid-sized congregation to give an orthodox biblical response – e.g., the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches, Satan is not merely symbolic but exists, Jesus led a sinless life, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe, etc.”[10]

Another interesting discovery they made is

“The religious beliefs and behaviors of people who attend house churches, which average about 20 adults in attendance, are more similar to the results for large conventional churches (i.e., more than 500 adults) than they are to the outcomes among those who attend small conventional churches (i.e., less than 50 adults).[11]

Small house churches (20 members) have comparable results to small groups in large churches, (more than 500 members). If a church is in the transition between 30-200 people they may not have a well organized small group ministry which would ensure good teaching and discipleship. Additionally, the pastor may not have enough resources and trained lay-leaders that help him lead and care. He cannot care for 30, 50, 100, 200 people, and consequently many people will remain ‘uncared for, untaught, and undiscipled.’ This situation, of course, can easily lead to a pastor´s frustration if not burnout. However, in Discroll´s situation it looks as follows: rather than him taking care of everyone, they established countless small groups and specific “care-teams.” In that way they can meet the needs of the individual person much more adequately.

What is the biblical foundation? The best example of a biblical small group had Jesus as its leader. We read in Mark 3:14, “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” They went with him wherever he went. While he was preaching to thousands of needy people (Mark 6:44) he was travelling around with, and pouring his life into, specifically those twelve disciples! Interestingly enough Jesus has within this ‘small group’ an even smaller group: Jesus took along Peter and the two brothers, James and John (Matthew 26:37).


[1] Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development – A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches, (C&P Publishing, Emmelsbüll, 1996), 33.

[2] Michael T. Dibbert, Frank B. Wichern, Growth Groups, (Zondervan Corporation: Grand Rapids, 1985), 11.

[3] Pearson – Higher Education. Content of Small Group Communication was authored by Tim Borchers. Date of Publishing unknown. Accessed on 13. 10.2009. <http://www.abacon.com/commstudies/groups/definition.html>

[4] Ibid..

[5] Ibid..

[6] Michael T. Dibbert, Frank B. Wichern, Growth Groups, 11.

[7] Bill Donahue, The Willow Creek Guide to Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids, 1994), 21.

[8] Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development, 32.

[9] Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, 2008), 262-263.

[10] The Barna Group: Research to examine, illuminate and transform. The survey was taken and the Article “How Faith varies by Church Sizes” written in 2008. Author is unknown. Accessed on 13.10.2009. <http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/289-how-faith-varies-by-church-size>

[11] Ibid.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
454 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Prairie Bible Institute




Title: Small group ministry