Small Groups Revitalize Churches by Pastoring on a Personal Level
Baert, Pam, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Pam Baert Daily Herald Staff Writer
The notion that church is community goes back to early Christian times when people gathered to learn about Jesus, to support each other in the young faith and to care for each other in their day-to-day lives.
Today, this type of ministering in small groups is refueling many churches in their mission to reach the "unchurched" while deepening the faith of regular churchgoers.
The Rev. Damian Gerke of West Ridge Community Church in Elgin compares the ministry of the church to a body - and like the human body "the real work is done on a cellular level," he says.
"The larger you get, the more impersonal you get. People slip through the cracks," said the Rev. David Buchnam of the Village Church of Gurnee. "How can one or two pastors care for all those people? In your small group, the leader becomes your pastor."
The dynamics of a small group make it possible to bring faith development to a personal level. Dr. Bill Donahue, executive director of small group ministries at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, said people want to be known, and small groups allow that to occur.
This ministry creates a "church of small churches," said Donahue. Groups of eight to 10 people gather to read the word of God, discuss it, pray over it, share how it affects them. In other words, the group is "moving people forward on their journey" to know Christ, he said.
In May, the Willow Creek Association offered a workshop on small group ministry.
"Christianity is this gift of community. Church is supposed to be this place where you can be known," said the Rev. Scott Christensen, minister of discipleship at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Palatine. He said community is one of two gifts God has given us - the other being forgiveness.
"We often talk about span of care. No one person can really care for more than 10 people. We have 600 people coming here on Sunday. No way can we (clergy) minister to all those people," said Christensen. This ministry provides the opportunity for the spiritual needs of all to be met.
Prince of Peace church member Al LaVanture of Palatine agrees. With his wife, Pat, they've belonged to a Bible study group for 10 years. During that time they've seen their church grow and they've seen the small group ministry help people get to know each other.
Buchnam, who was brought in to start this ministry at his church of more than 1,400 people in Gurnee, said small group ministry allows for everyone to be cared for.
"It is very relationship driven," Donahue said. That point, he found, makes it attractive to Generation X.
"The new generation says, 'Show me your word by what you do,' " he said. "They're looking for the action (behind the words)."
While the small group ministry movement is growing, it is not meant to take the place of weekly worship.
"People need to be a part of a big gathering," said Gerke who brought the small group concept to West Ridge when the church started about 18 months ago. …