Small Groups Have Big Impact

By VanCleave, Brooke | St. Joseph News-Press, August 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

Small Groups Have Big Impact


VanCleave, Brooke, St. Joseph News-Press


Sunday school is as much a part of a churchgoer's morning routine as coffee and comics. Or at least, it used to be. Now, more and more churches are abandoning the "Sunday school' label and replacing or supplementing traditional Bible study classes with small fellowship groups.

"When you hear the words ~Sunday school,' what does it remind you of? School!' says Dr. David Mason, pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church. He doesn't want Bible study classes to feel like school lessons. Instead, he says members participate in "Connection Groups' on Sunday mornings, based around categories like age, gender, lifestyle or marital status.

Many groups are led by discussion facilitators and volunteers instead of having one main teacher, providing opportunities to ask questions and have impactful conversations. Although many people still refer to the groups as Sunday school, Dr. Mason says the purpose of the groups is to be "a place where people are cared for and heard.'

"If we just deal with the meanings and teachings of the Bible, you then have to have application; to really apply it, you have to bring life to the table,' Dr. Mason says. "A single mother applies it differently than a couple, a younger person applies it differently than an older person. You bring your own personal thoughts and needs to the conversation.'

Small groups often engage in Bible-based curriculum, but they are primarily about building relationships and fellowship with other Christians. Green Valley's Connection Groups mainly meet on Sunday mornings so that child care is provided, but they have the essence of small groups rather than Sunday school settings. Other church small groups choose to meet outside the church on different days of the week.

Jim Morgan, pastor of The Edge Christian Fellowship, says small groups are vitally important to how the church functions.

"When we started the small group program, we had to ask ourselves: ~Do we want to be a church with small groups or of small groups?' There is a difference,' Mr. Morgan says.

The Edge's "People Groups' form the church's main pillars of fellowship, making it a church of small groups, he says. Working in a trimester system, members join a different group with a new topic every three or four months. This allows them to meet dozens of new people instead of sticking with the same small group for years. People Groups usually meet in host homes on weekday evenings, some of which provide childcare for parents. Although many topics are offered, most members choose groups based on day and time to fit their schedules. …

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