I'm reading a new book on small groups ministry that is confirming some things I've been thinking for a while. One of them is that larger groups are okay, and it may be a very good thing to have more of them. This isn't to say that small is not good (it will be a good option and preferable for many). It is to say that big is good and maybe even preferable for most groups.
I've been talking about this for a while for the following reasons:
- In our mobile society, there are lots of weeks where a quarter to half of the participants will be out of town or legitimately tied up with something else. When the group is small, that might leave three or four people to meet. That's fine every once in a while, but it's hard when it happens on a regular basis.
- In larger groups you have lots of energy. And you can overcome loss of participation by breaking down regularly into smaller groups within the group for part or all of the study and for prayer. I find that this is essential in larger groups, otherwise a majority of folks become wall flowers in the room.
That's been the extent of my thinking on this. In Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas, they give several additional reasons. Some of them might be considered controversial and in many ways even gutsy to mention:
- Less burnout in leaders because it's less work and easier to lead. Think about it, there are more people to share the load for PEACE or childcare. Discussions flow much more easily. A smaller group that's not too talkative requires Ph.D. level skill to keep it engaging. And with more people, the leader typically has more fun, leading to longer leadership tenures. I think that's one of the reasons I never tire of leading: most of my groups are big.
- It minimizes the "weirdo" factor. Those are their words, so don't shoot the messenger. Some people won't go to a small group because they're afraid of being trapped. If they know the groups are typically 15-20, they will be more likely to feel like they will be able to find some people they can connect with. And the reality the authors mention is that sometimes people sign up for a group who make other people feel uncomfortable. I think this is a good thing (an important reality of Christian community). But when the group is large, this becomes an easier thing to deal with. The potential negative impact is lessened.
- Smaller groups tend to fail more often. The authors don't advocate canceling small, small groups, but they consider groups of seven or less to be in a danger zone and needing extra encouragement and evaluation.
- Small groups are a great place for new friendships to form but are a lousy place for intimacy. They realize this is way out there and blasphemous to some folks, but they go on to explain it in detail. I've simply put it this way from day one at Five Oaks: Small groups are not meant to be support groups. And intimacy/vulnerability will likely happen with only one or two people in your small group when needed and it will likely happen outside of group time. But that connection will be made because of the small group.
What do you think? I am obviously liking it. But you don't have to. Tell me what you think.