21 May, 2024

Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups


by | 24 January, 2011 | 235 comments

By Brian Jones

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.

A Flawed Starting Point

Church-initiated “small groups” begin from a flawed starting point.

For reasons that still escape me, soon after becoming a Christian at age 18, Deron Brickey, Dave Polonia, Jeff Snyder, and I started hanging out with one another.

Soon that group grew to 10 to 12 friends. We laughed together, prayed together, studied the Bible together, ate together, evangelized together, and served the poor together. Even though we had no leader, no real set meeting time, no agenda, and no plan or focus, it was through these friends that I made incredible strides toward becoming a holistic disciple of Jesus.

And it all happened by accident.

In fact, looking back on my 25 years of following Christ, here’s what I’ve noticed: Every small group I’ve ever been in that helped me grow as a disciple started by what appeared to be an accident.

I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t interested in joining a small group in the least. And in many respects, I didn’t even feel a need to grow spiritually.

Most of all, I wasn’t participating in some superficial churchwide small group sign-up initiative the senior pastor dreamed up to jack up small group attendance because he heard church analysts say you should always maintain a certain ratio of worship attendees to small group participants.

It just happened, naturally and spontaneously.

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. That is until we westerners, particularly Americans, started messing it up.

Well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest insights in organizational theory, let their pragmatic and utilitarian hearts delude them into thinking they could organize, measure, and control the mystical working of the Holy Spirit in community in order to consistently reproduce disciples in other contexts.

Then these people started writing books and hosting seminars. And then church leaders like you and me bought into what they were saying because we didn’t recognize that the same faulty worldview that produced a mechanized approach to Christian community fostered a ready-made market in our hearts to consume their quick-fix solutions.

So we came home, armed with our “101 Sure-Fire Discussion Starter” books and binders full of slick recruitment techniques, and started small group ministries at our churches.

We preached powerful sermons. We cast vision. We contorted Acts 2 into saying what we needed it to say. We blathered on and on about all the “one anothers” in the Bible and about how, if we met one time a week for 1.5 hours and followed a well-conceived discussion regime, we could experience Acts 2 in all of its splendor and glory.

And what happened? You know what happened. They failed. Like big-time.

And meanwhile, while our people were constrained by their obligation to the church and their sense of loyalty to us as leaders, their hearts searched for real community and an opportunity to grow as disciples.

What would happen if we euthanized all of our small groups, taught the value of discipleship and community, and then simply let the Holy Spirit do his work?

Achilles’ Heel

When I attended my very first church growth conference in 1992, a nationally known small group “expert” stood up and said, “The way we say it at our church is, “If you can read, you can lead.” If a Christian can read the questions in our study guide, he can lead a small group at our church.”

That’s easy, I thought. Too easy, in fact. And ridiculous.

“If you can read, you can lead” is a great slogan for people who organize a rugby team from your church, or your knitting circle, or the Saturday morning llama-riding group. But not for someone recognized by the community of faith as a mentor of new disciples.

The Achilles’ heel of the modern-day small group movement is simple: Small groups don’t create disciples; disciples create disciples. And modern-day small groups are led, for the most part, by people who have attended the church, had a conversion experience, led a reasonably moral life, and can read the study-guide questions, but are not disciples themselves.

American churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to an absurd level. In fact, it’s so ridiculous most churches would be better off not even having small groups than to offer them with leaders who aren’t disciples.

The common argument against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience. And it’s not the small group leader’s fault.

It’s the fault of the people who installed the leader and convinced him he could lead their group to a place where they themselves have not gone.

Jesus in Your Group?

Would Jesus join a small group in your church?

Think about that for a moment. Forget about your goals. Forget about your motivations for offering them. Forget about all the supposed benefits of participating in one. Do you honestly think Jesus would join, lead, or start a small group within the existing structure of your small group’s ministry at your church?

Of course not. Not a chance. Not in a million years.


Because while your people are stuck in the “hairball” of your church’s ministry (to steal Gordon MacKenzie’s great line), Jesus would be out rubbing shoulders with people in your community, helping them find their way back to God, and teaching them to obey his teachings.

Jesus would actually be doing what small groups say they want/should/need to be doing, but they can’t, because they’re too busy being a “small group” inside the confines of your small group’s ministry infrastructure.

It’s like a jogging class where the instructor, instead of taking his class jogging and commenting on technique while class members actually are jogging, stuffs everyone into a classroom and lectures to them three days a week and then gives them a final exam.

Disciples are created “out there.” Small groups, if not by their definition, definitely by their practice, all occur “in here.”

With few exceptions, modern-day small groups are great at producing:

• Christians who sit in circles and talk to one another inside a building

• people who read and comment on the Bible

• people who rant about how they long to “get out there” and do something that matters

• people who awkwardly end their time by praying for “prayer requests”

• people who go home unchallenged and unchanged.

You would think there’s a Small Groups Revised Version of the New Testament somewhere. And I quote: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore stay where you are and make Christians of the people you already know, baptizing them in the name of American consumer Christianity, and teaching them to sit in rooms with one another, read the Bible, and pray for one another. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20, SGRV).

If the Small Groups Revised Version of Matthew 28:18-20 were the stated purpose, then most American small groups would be nailing it.

In my humble opinion, the Americanized small group is a remnant of an impotent religious institution that can’t transition effectively into a post-Christian, postmodern world.

Thank God small groups worked in some instances, and in some contexts!

But for every story of success about a small group creating an authentic disciple, my hunch is there are three times as many failures (and that just takes into account the 10 to 30 percent of church attendees who actually participate in them).

If we had time to waste, this wouldn’t be an urgent problem.

But we don’t.

Brian Jones is founding pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, Pennsylvania. He’s the author of Second Guessing God and Getting Rid of the Gorilla: Confessions on the Struggle to Forgive. See www.brianjones.com.


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  1. David Gustafson

    Some valid points made. Some churches have used small groups mostly for assimilation of attenders. However, others have had disciple-making at the heart of small groups, especially some cell-models and newer missional models such as 3DM.

  2. Anonymous

    Ten years ago some friends invited us to a bible study group at their house. Care was always taken to make sure that the materials chosen were biblically sound, and because we had the freedom to choose them, we were able to grow from whatever point we were at. We had several couples from mixed church backgrounds and the dynamic and insight into our lives was terrific. Eventually everyone decided to attend a particular church because of solid teaching and freedom for the congregants to gather without interference. That didn’t last long. Before too long the church hijacked our group. Instead of a “bible study” we were now to use the term “Life Group”. All of our group time was now focused on digging deeper into the Sunday sermon. We had actually attended a church prior to our current one that was promoting its own small groups and when we told the pastor that we were already in an inter-church group he said that much of the communication regarding church affairs would be passed down through the small groups and that we would miss out if we didn’t get in one. We gave it an earnest try but found that the dynamic was that of obligation rather than growth and we left. We had hoped that when our current church attempted the same thing that the result might be somehow different, but it was not.

    Before the church took over, we regularly saw new couples join the study who were truly interested in exploring their faith. We still have a few people left in the group that make the most of what we’re given, but a lot of people sign up to fulfill the “requirement” and attend once or not at all. It’s not nearly what it had been. While I appreciate my fellow group members, it’s become another routine rather than something I truly look forward to. Many of our original study members left because they felt the same way. I don’t think that mandating groups and deciding their discussion topics is the answer.

  3. stewartinoz

    I have been in a variety of small groups over the decades.
    Where there is earnest prayer for the ‘church’ and or members of the goups with special needs, small groups can be a source of great encouragement. Some have given genuine insight to the Scriptures and have been helpful to a New Christian. Some have encouraged formation of genuine and lasting friendships which could have been missed in the mass meeting at the local church.
    Others have been a mixture of people where the noisy man was always right. Others have been a collection of unsubstantiated opinions based on various doctrinal backgrounds. Others have been the blind leading the blind as far as valid leading. Others have been led from a prepared study written by someone who asked such questions as “How did this make you feel?” and the like.
    In a smaller local assembly it creates a sense of unity. As a small group among many in a medium sized to large to mega sized collection of doctrinally similar people, it gets you to meet people who are otherwise swamped by hundreds round about on Sunday mornings but can encourage ‘cliques’ which can lead to splits and or propagation of erroneous teaching.
    The comment ‘If you can read, you can lead’ would seem a particularly useless starting point and lead to all the negative thoughts it have listed above.

  4. Debra

    I have to agree with the premise behind the author’s words. While great in intent, in practice the small groups that I have been part of have typically focused on the group itself and the group’s own needs. If anyone mentioned the idea of possibly going out into the community, the idea was suppressed rather quickly. New members were typically not welcomed with open arms, after all, the group was….well, the group. Cozy, comfy, no risk or suggestion of venturing out of comfort zones beyond the programmed agenda.

    We have had greater success by not “defining” static small groups, but keeping a dynamic model of setting small teams to work together as needed to go into the community or to work internally to build relationships with and disciple new members.

  5. Francis Williams

    You ask would Jesus join a group…I think He would start them, that’s why He sent them out two by two so we could be stronger in faith. We had a group, and yes, it worked very well. But we moved. But they are still having it and serving God and going out to the projects and witnessing. The members of the small group would feed off each other, just like my favorite verse, Proverbs 27:17, iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another. You could say the disciples were a small group; they would teach, pray, serve each other and other people. I’m not saying that all small groups work or not, but larger groups tend not to. In this day and time, with the falling away from Christ, we as Christians really need each other to be able to stand against the principalities of the world. If we do not, it will eat us alive. That’s why I think Jesus would form small groups so we could strengthen ourselves to not be alone. If you are a saved Christian we do have a leader. Jesus said he would send a teacher. . . . The Holy Spirit will guide us; we can do nothing without the Holy Spirit. When we go out to war against the enemy, we pray to God to be a light and a path to guide our feet as He did for Moses. So my answer to this is yes, they work. The one I’ve been in with my wife works; we just haven’t found one were we are now. But we still witness, and I contribute that to that one cell group.

  6. Steve

    I won’t go in to all the reasons I disagree with this article, but I would like to make a quick point about why I support small church communities, and that has to do with my own personal, spiritual growth I have gotten from my current group.

    I was a Sunday recluse for many years. One day, the pastor of our church told me about the small church community groups they had going and asked if I would like to join. Being a recluse, my first impulse was to say “no thank you,” but here the pastor was inviting me to be a part of the community. I took it as a sign and agreed. It’s been over a year now, and I’ve gotten involved in numerous other ministries, thanks in no small part to the support and encouragement from the members in my small church community.

    Are these groups for everyone? No, there’s not a one-size-fits-all ministry that brings everyone equally closer to God. But I believe there are many people who do benefit from these groups–as in my case, it has been a starting point to getting involved in other ways.

  7. Mike ziegwied

    I write this comment with disbelief and great sadness for a number of reasons.
    -about the writer”™s lack of compassion and love for his flock which Jesus called him as a shepherd to disciple,
    -about his mean spirited sour attitude regarding small groups despite the fact that Jesus himself led a small group, and even casual observers would say that “˜worked”™ pretty well!

    I”™m shocked this article was accepted by your publication; it is so full of negativity and lack of vision that it serves only to show how difficult a time the author is having in his own spiritual walk. I pray that Godly men led by the Holy Spirit will come into his life and he will humble himself to recognize the error of his thinking.

    May we all humbly seek for the Lord to constantly renew our minds throughout each day, recognizing that it will not happen incidentally but must be cultivated intentionally- just as Jesus did with his small group of 12.

    See the book “Church is a Team Sport” by Jim Putman as a starting point to see how valuable small groups can be when they are based upon care for others in action. Then come to RealLife Ministries in the Post Falls area to have your mind blown- you will see how 800 vibrant home groups have been the foundation to build multiple church plants in the region!

  8. Kris

    I seldom leave comments – but after reading this article, I feel like I should. I certainly don’t know Brian, but I’m saddened that his experiences have been so negative and even more saddened that he assumes his bad experiences are the norm. While there are plenty of ineffective groups around the country, however, there are many who are absolutely “Killing It!” Like big time?!?

    I have had many amazing experiences. Our groups have allowed people to grow in their connection to God and to grow connected to each other – and build life-long friendships. They have also proven the easiest vehicle to help people engage in serving within the walls of our church and outside the walls into our community and beyond. We have traveled to foreign countries together. We have done significant outreach locally. We are a family of families.

    I have experienced more Acts 2 reality in groups than anything else I have encountered. To watch people follow Christ together, care for one another, and live beyond themselves is about a Jesus-like as it gets. So Brian – with all respect due – I agree with your opening premise. “You really haven’t figured out the small group thing.”


  9. Tammy

    Sad, that is what this article makes me feel. I don’t know what small groups you have been in but I think the real problem is not the group but YOU. You said you didn’t need to grow spiritually at the time, well everyone needs to grow and at all times. When you think you have arrived then you are far from where Christ wants you to be. The small groups I have been involved in have helped me grow, helped me to reach out for help and to then reach out to others. If you don’t want to be in a small group then don’t go, but don’t put and article out that might push others away. A new believer would get so much from a small group. You sir are not led by the Holy Spirit otherwise you would not write such discouraging words.

  10. Armon

    So small groups aren’t good because they some/most fail at making disciples?

    Where does that leave the corporate church?

    I actually took a lot away from this article because I believe you are correct on a lot of fronts. The problem is you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you have placed people in leadership roles when they clearly did not have the ability, knowledge or qualifications to be in a position of leadership, then that sir is your fault. Do not blame BIBLICAL small groups because you didn’t see the fruit they are supposed to create, when you didn’t bother following guidelines set forth by the Bible.

    And for all your negativity . . . you never once gave an alternate by which we can produce disciples.

  11. Mina Boyd

    My husband and I serve as facilitators for our Couples Small Group at our church. We have been together for more than two years and are still going strong. We meet monthly, and as a result we have seen marriages strengthen within our group. We also come together for Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry. Just like any other project or activity that involves people, there will be successes and failures alike. Jesus would enjoy our group because he liked to talk and eat and so do we. However, while the church is His bride, He did not have a spouse.

    We attend a large church with a diverse congregation. Without the small groups, members could get lost in the crowd if they are not assertive enough to become actively involved. I congratulate our pastor for his vision and leadership. From the looks of your article, the problem is not with small groups, but the leadership and encouragement you are not giving as the shepherd of your church. Sheep follow their shepherd. If they see that you are not committed to small groups, they have no incentive to be committed either. They can be content to be Sunday morning pew sitters and never know the beauty of fellowship, involvement, and intimate study of God’s Word.

  12. Mike

    This is a very honest article. I am a Christian in burnout mode right now. I love JESUS, I pray, I read the Bible, help the poor and homeless, and for now, I left my church and am watching a church online while I get ready for a new church . . . quite frankly, it may not be for a while. I used to do the group meetings, midweek service, and Sundays — getting up early (too early on Sundays for me) — plus go-to groups. . . . Quite honestly, it often controlled my day where I had to be ready to go there and started to drive me nuts. Also went to midweek service. And yes, it burned me out after years of doing it and it became more chore than pleasure. It bored me and I felt exhausted after a while or said things like “Again?” I just went into a sort of cruise-control mentality where I would enjoy moments, while other moments I said to myself, “Gonna be late by the time I get home.” Stuff like that.

    The pastor was basically fine. Totally GOD-centered individual who perhaps had a bit of a controlling personality but the WORD was quite good. In the end, it just got too much. When I got home from it all, I just wanted to sleep and not read a Bible as time went on. The first, say, 2 plus years I was totally into it. Then slowly, it was just wearing on me. Then slowly I just drifted out of the whole thing. Stopped going to the meetings, then cut back on church, and then simply stopped. Started watching online services from a church in another state I happened to go to when I was in that state. I started to read the Bible again. Started working with, giving money to the homeless and trying to get these folks into going back to church at least as a concept to them. I feel much better now. I really do. It became too ritual feeling to me after a while having to go to weekly meetings or services all the time. Again, I understand an actual church would be good to go to again and I will. But really, what is better? Getting burnout mode doing what I was doing or doing what I am doing now? To me it is the latter. I do not think you have to be in a group setting all the time, or for sure, maybe meet less often. People are simply exhausted after work or have family. That is reality . . .

  13. john

    Isn’t all this true of the regular church service too?

  14. Vernon

    Sometimes, the truth is hard to swallow. I can’t see where small groups promote biblical unity. Home and family Bible study, yes. Small splinter groups within local churches often result in competition and division.

  15. Mark

    It seems like this article is against poorly run small groups and not small groups in general. There is nothing in here to argue against the concept of a small group in and of itself.

    By the way, Jesus started a small group. Remember the disciples? Jesus thought that to invest himself most in the life of 12 men (and 3 in the inner group) would be more profitable than only preaching to the masses. Moses also divided Israel into small groups in order to lead the nation more faithfully.

  16. MikeP

    “Brian” I guess is writing his opinion or experience, stoking a fire or looking for feedback. However in his opening premise he says he brought in a nationally recognized Pastor to consult with. No one man or even group of men have experience enough to refute the workings of small groups or large groups that do work or even see or understand how the Spirit of God is moving immediately. Be careful in the bring in “celebrity Christian” genre to improve worship or attendance or any other matter unless it is the same guidance that the Spirit has given local leaders who are seeking Him. I’ve found the same leading He gives national leaders who are genuine will match or coincide with local vision. It’s the same Spirit. Small groups work without a doubt. However you can seldom hit a target without an aim which can be the downfall of any group large or small. Any group must have leadership and be goal oriented or aimed by the Holy Spirit. The apostles were. They specifically talked about to where they were led to carry the Gospel. We have to be aware of the “Ego factor”, “Hero worship”, and “self glorification factor” that lead many groups. The thrust of any group should be the same as the apostles or the Great Commission. Some years ago while serving in the US military I became involved in a Church that had grown into the millions by small cell groups. These groups after gaining 10-12 members split and formed another group duplicating the process. It created a network where someone from every group knew someone else from another group through fellowship or associations. It actually helped meet needs in the Church no matter how wide it was spread. Aimed focused small groups work. Period. Fellowship is vital to Christian growth. That’s why we have to abide in the Vine. Without His Spirit we can’t get it done.

  17. Stephen Alexander

    Paul teaches no works required, what do you expect?

  18. David Cole

    Absolutely astounding Brian.

    You criticize small groups just after telling us how small groups helped you grow and mature as a Christian. It just so happened that Jesus’ small group turned the world around and the greatest New Testament missionary went from city to city establishing small groups.

    What you are against are church programs that artificially make cookie cutter small groups with little leadership. They will obviously fail as you have experienced, but not because they are a small groups, or because there was no “mystical working of the Holy Spirit” (a totally nonsensical new age idea) but because of the lack of trained leadership. Leaders learn in two ways, by example and on the job. They must be taught and equipped and let loose to experiment and fail multiple times.

    Exactly what do you propose to replace small group interaction with? Private study at home? (I’m for that but you will get few takers.) Or everyone gather to hear your uniquely wise subjective spirit led mystical counsel? (Sorry but I’m gonna pass on that one. I prefer Bible preachers.)

  19. Rebecca

    I think the premise of this is right on. I started reading Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. If we are indeed living out the life God created us to live, disciplined to live as Christ did, then the idea of small groups can and will naturally compound around us.

    I migrated away from my small group for a myriad of reasons and found myself gravitating towards people I can do life with and my kids can do life with. As I grow in my own journey, I share it as a natural spirit led initiative to further God’s kingdom. I find my small group in the morning putting my son on the bus, and as I pick up my kids from school. The moms and dads I get to talk with and the occasional random coffee where fellowship is as deep as the richness of the coffee. I don’t fit in time for a small group…life becomes a small group.

    I am confused at the time and attention taken to placing people into small groups, and completely missing discipleship and discipline. It is perhaps that people would rather talk about being a Christian than bother to actually become one.

    The author does state and I believe it to be true, there are living breathing small groups that work and are growing up believers. In my experience, they happen to be pastors’ small groups, and they are doing life with those around them; doing the work of the church…I could only hope that disciples are made and grown in these groups.

    Great, thought provoking narrative. It gave life to the thoughts and doubts I’ve had around the idea of small groups. Thank you for writing it.

  20. Steve Wells

    Wow. Your small group ministry is a failure, so you condemn the concept. As others have mentioned, we did not create the small group concept, Jesus did. The Lord has blessed our church tremendously through our growing small group ministry. We lead an adult small group and host a college age small group in our home weekly. We also do service projects, lead international mission trips annually, provide support for a number of missionaries, all through our small groups. Christmas is a season to celebrate Gods humility. Coming to earth as a baby. Born in a stable. Making the grand announcement to the lowest of the lowest, the shepherds. Jesus made his entrance to this planet as spectacularly humble as possible. In that spirit of humility, could you possibly consider that maybe the concept of small groups may not be as awful as you represent? That in fact maybe you (gasp!) had a poorly implemented small groups program? And maybe a well run small group program with great vision and leadership could create amazing discipleship and service opportunities and grow the depth of your church?

    Praying for you guys.


  21. Peter

    Hi Y’all,

    The author should perhaps not get tarred or feathered, even in a nice Christian “I’ll pray for you” way. At least not immediately… (-:

    Of course he’s not discouraging any or every small group, but he shows that small groups can be a sacred cow which we are (wrongly) reluctant to question. They are not necessarily a force for good, or for a purpose that advances the kingdom in our life or otherwise, but must be made that way or otherwise shut down/left. Just like any other sphere of life.

    Mike. My sympathy. Stop floating, start swimming, ask God what direction and help (beware, He does answer in unexpected, sometimes tough ways), and definitely now stop doing anything that drains you of life.


  22. Pat Hartson

    OK, so we kill small groups. Then we assimilate people by plugging them into a ministry team. There they serve and grow and build relationships. They function best by partnering up with somewhere between 2 and 18 people. If they don’t, we lose them out the back door! Oh, I think that they just joined an accidental small group! Maybe we should jettison groups that are merely self-serving “God bless me” clubs and re-focus on making disciples that make disciples who plant churches by walking with people through life circumstances (sometimes in groups)!

  23. Matthew Ford

    This came to me for some reason as I was praying for truth and understanding this morning. I was not even praying about small groups.

    Churches are moving to shorter services and encouraging small groups. Those in the church that are desiring meat will tend toward the small groups and those desiring nothing will be content with the services. The churches are more about building and organization than the body of Christ. The push towards small groups attached to large churches (which is the only place they make sense) is a purposeful attack on the church by Satan. Their resources are spent building ministries, buildings, salaries, and programs rather than feeding the poor and missions efforts. It has created the concept of the churched vs unchurched. The churched are led to feel better about spending their money and time for their comforts.

    In other words, the church leadership is not feeding the sheep and instead encouraging small groups. They encourage small groups for getting fed and chain them to the large church.

    Take this to the Lord in prayer.

  24. Kip E.

    Hello Brian,

    i liked your article. I currently belong to a church that was once small and also had small groups. My family had just left a covenant church in Florida and moved to Maine. We found this small church and loved the small fellowships. Although they had leaders at the time, it was an incredible place to be fed and to establish relationships beyond your traditional “hi, how are you” Sunday service relationships. it was a chance to forge relationships of love and service to one another.

    I’m constantly saddened and amazed when I talk to people in the now very big church, at how many of our brothers and sisters are still suffering and carrying burdens. It seems to me we are so wrapped up in a lot of these canned ministries and church growth, that the very people who we’ve attracted and who left the world of suffering are being lost in our very midst. Our church now is big and they’re mucked with the small groups in such a way to make them frivolous and shallow. I think the idea is to attract non-Christians. Yes, this is where it fails. This is why, in my opinion, the church has lost the purpose of small groups.

    I liked your comments about how pastors are introducing methods and studies and programs to manage the church. That’s disgusting and the very reason I’ve come to hate the church. My church in particular has become shallow, dumbed down in order not to offend newcomers. The teachings only touch the surface and rarely have much depth to them. This is all a result of the mega church movement which in my opinion has poisoned the well.

    Small group should be for cultivating relationships, to make sure the needs of the saints are taken care of, to establish a place of openness where we can dump our burdens and be refreshed after worship and fellowship to love others and be able to share the good news of the Gospel. The kingdom of God is not food or drink but righteousness, peace and joy. When? After we die? I think it should be now, in our relationship with Christ and one another.

  25. Jerre

    I have to disagree with this article. Just because it didn’t work for a few doesn’t mean it doesn’t work at all (if they are done right). We started Care Groups in Morris, OK (A very small church around 50 and grew to 125) and we had a huge success.

    There we’re visitors who would come to a Care Group before they came to church, and once they realized we were sincere in our walk with God, they eventually came to church. 13 years later, we’ve had assistant pastors, preachers, and Sunday school teachers come out of our Care Groups.

    If I read my Bible right, didn’t Jesus do most of his ministry in Small Group settings
    Zacchaeus the tax collector, the woman who washed his feet, ministered to a small group of 12 that grew into many….just a few examples.

    But again, I respect the opinion of this article and it did challenge me to respond

  26. mark

    A few problems can arise from some small groups:
    – Does the leader have a good handle on God’s Word, and some Thelogy 101?
    – How would a new small group leader help his group if the pastor was proceeding through Romans. I see a trainwreck with potential confusion. Small group leaders must be carefully trained.
    – I wonder if small groups should just be focused upon fellowship and meeting needs.
    – Are many pastors exerting much energy on small groups, and too little time in sermon prep. The pastor must be the primary teacher.
    – congregations can grow numerically while literally starving Biblically.

  27. Jerry

    I seriously cannot believe this article actually made the Standard. Small group failure? How does one define that? Small group success? What’s the definition?

    Criticizing churches for trying to create synergistic groups that help people do Christian life together, or bashing any attempt to create environments where people can grow together? Who does that?

    And who in their right mind, claims to have the formula for successful groups of any kind – small, large, green, yellow…? The author debunks his own logic when he first begins the article with his “by accident” small group example.

    Who died and made anyone judge over what it means to have a small group as a part of an overall discipleship strategy?

    Duh…small groups didn’t “work” in our church, so they just don’t “work.” Seriously? Says who? Even a small group started, that didn’t stay together isn’t necessarily a small group that didn’t “work.”

    Every church in the world started as a small group – some organically, and some that were organized. And some of each have “failed” too (if that can actually be defined). It is simply idiotic to criticize human beings for “organizing” groups, systems, bodies of believers with a plan and give them a chance to grow and share together. And that actually makes more sense than just sticking your finger into the “wind of the Spirit” and allowing things to happen “by accident.” What are we, hippies living on love and flower power?

    How can one be critical of churches wanting to create incubators for spiritual growth? How can anyone second guess another for trying to get people in the way of the Holy Spirit, “where two or three are gathered?”

    This article drips with arrogance, and self-righteousness – and even a touch of judgmental legalism.

    My advice to the author – get over yourself. No one has the corner on the market of how, when, and where the Holy Spirit decides to work. Not even a small group “expert…”

  28. Lori

    My 1400 “attendee” church is going through this “small group” track right now–using what is called “The Growth Track” (google it and you’ll find tons of other churches using it too). I have been very uncomfortable about it since it was brought to our (existing servant/leaders, as they say, in the church) attention a couple of months ago–that our church is going in a “new direction.” My concerns have been very much like you mention here, but in particular, that the church appears to be willing to let almost anyone, who has signed the “leadership contract” regarding a statement of belief and being willing to live a godly life, etc., to become the leader of a small group–even one focused around people whose common interest is golf, running, etc. They too have used Acts 2 as their proof text and are intentionally focusing on Millennials now, as who they are aiming our main Sunday services at–with new lighting, new music, new ways of doing communion (getting up and going to a small table and serving ourselves, whenever we feel moved to do so, during an allotted 8 minute timeframe, and then immediately baptizing anyone who professes Christ and comes forward during that 8 minutes).

    All that aside, a small group led by someone who is a very mature believer, and is gifted with teaching, is a wonderful thing, and may very well be a group God blesses by multiplying disciples who will then go forward into “the world,” witness and make even more disciples! But, if a church is basically trying to hit a mark (a certain % of “attendees” being in small groups by a given date–as mine is), then it is asking for trouble, because it will achieve a wide field of shallow teaching with friendships made along the way. And the ONLY time almost all of the “attendees” (I believe they are moving away from using the terms congregation or members, though that’s not been blatantly stated yet) are present IS during the Sunday services, and that is when the pastor should be teaching the whole counsel of God, the good and the bad, so that anyone being called by God WILL hear the Word and be drawn to Him.

  29. Clif

    Just like in the times before the Protestant Reformation. And those *small groups* grew into the largest movement of God this world has ever seen, with Popes and *Kings among men* sitting up and taking notice…
    But clearly, you wouldn’t know about that, Brian Jones.
    At the Day of Judgment, where Everyone will give account of his words, and especially of One’s Teaching:
    False Teachers are clearly standing on differing ground than the Lord’s sheep. (Mt 7:21-23 + Mt 25)
    Is this “harsh?” (as at least one has opined here… )
    “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Jesus said. (i.e., Is Jesus harsh for “Christians” to hear?)
    The fruits of False Teachers are their false doctrines.
    Yet how many will Repent of their false teaching in the time between now and then, even when pointed out?
    Writing articles IS teaching. What you write for others IS doctrine.
    Metanoia; Repent.
    >> We Will All Be There. <<
    Robed in Jesus Christ's Imputed Righteousness Alone,

  30. Brian

    Well, not to revive a dead thread … but …

    Some good points in this article … and some good points in response. I think the article and the responses more dramatically illustrate a larger problem. The Bride attacking the Bride. In a nutshell … who cares!??! If you are spreading the gospel and actually making disciples through small groups! Awesome! Keep doing them! If you have stepped ahead of God’s leading and placed your trust in programming and have found that your program isn’t working … then get rid of it!!! Seek and follow the leadership of the Spirit! People, not programs, are where God’s heart is focused. There are WAY too many non-critical things in The Church that we are arguing about. Theology aside, (theology matters) we argue about church size, philosophy of ministry, methodology, programming etc. Again … WHO CARES?! … if we do … we should NOT. Because God does not! Let’s get over ourselves and our tendency to hold on to the non-critical, dive back into the Word, seek His face, listen to His direction, and obey even if we are afraid. When we do so, we may see radical changes in programming … or we may see churches that look exactly the same … but the difference in effectiveness will be profound! Because once again the church will be under HIS leadership and not ours.

  31. Mike Walker

    I applaud the author’s honesty in speaking the truth, something many churches and church leaders do not want to hear, condemning the truth teller as unloving and mean spirited. Unfortunately, many church leaders stifle the truth and demand lockstep devotion to whatever their traditions may be. If only they would defend the scriptures as ardently as they do their traditions.

    I don’t think that you can condemn all small groups, because some work amazingly well, which the author acknowledges, but most do not. Most become cloistered social clubs, or religious obligations. I think the author is right the overwhelming majority of successful small groups rise up spontaneously in Christians who have a hunger to learn and to share the joy of their lives (Jesus) with others. I do believe those small groups should have some accountability, to insure they do not slip into false teaching, but they should also have the freedom to choose their own questions.

    For the first 300 years the Body of Christ, the Church “turned the world upside down.” Unfortunately, most churches today have ceased to be the body of Christ, a dynamic living organism, and have become dead religious organizations, full of programs and very busy but accomplishing nothing.

  32. Tom

    Very good article. It doesn’t condemn house groups generally but rather points out what new Christians lead to get closer to the Lord: the right behaviour of models! For instance, there is a lovely grandma praying day and night (while the dear pastor is running his many businesses, having no time to pray) – SHE is the leader or model for others to follow! Or have you seen the young man reading his Bible in the park? – HE is a model to others how to read the Bible! And no, he says, he isn’t always following a Bible reading plan, he’s just reading what the Holy Spirit is popping up in front of his inner eyes. And have you also watched how careful this young man handles his Bible? The article above stresses that true disciples make others to become also a disciple, not programs and meeting every day or listening to the noisy much talking guys and girls. I’ve just finished a 4-year Bible School and must admit that Mike above (Sept 6, 2015) is right. The school, lessons, practical work and travelings (which I had to do besides my regular job in my company) were so time filling that you hardly found a quiet hour to be alone with your God and Saviour. I also found myself totally exhausted afterwards and swore to myself: Never will I do such a busy church job again. A church job which robs me of the most precious thing on earth: Time with my Saviour Jesus Christ. House groups can be a blessing, but they can be a curse too. They can be misused as a tool of total control over you and your life.

  33. David Slagle

    Amen. If it works in your context, do it, if not, jettison it. Don’t elevate small groups to the level of doctrine and dogma. Small groups have become the “next step.” “We’re a church, we have to do small groups now” is the equivalent of, “I’ve graduated high school, I have to go to college now.” It’s not the NECESSARY next step; it just MAY be a next step. Some people need to graduate high school and go to college, but some need to go to trade school or K-K-K-K-K-K-Katmandu. Some churches need SGs and some don’t.

  34. Jaeson Calenini

    Small group = painful and worst, boring most of the time. Maybe small groups are awesome for new Christians, I don’t know. Seasoned people will find them boring, artificial, and just a rehash of Sunday. It is absurd. Also, they are a massive waste of time if you work and don’t live five minutes away. If I’m going to drive in rush hour to get somewhere it needs to be meaningful. Not lame. I don’t think the people from my “small group” are even friends with me. It’s very easy to be marginalized the larger the group is, or if there are sub-demographics. Groups tend to be organized poorly at EVERY single church I’ve been to. It’s also a joke, you want to get to know these people, but aren’t able to unless you plan on staying one hour later during the work week because well, the whole “group” time is about rehashing a meeting and having surface-level conversations with people. It’s dumb. It’s painful.

    Instead they should have “social groups” so people can get to know each other. Have them right after service or on Saturday mornings so WORKING ADULTS can participate.

  35. R.E.

    Literally going through a crisis now. Want to move from where I am at. Miss my Dad badly after he passed a little while back.. Became a Christian in my 40’s through various trials including near death in a hospital. In 50s now.

    Well, let me just add on here. I agree. I do not like small groups. Hate them. Feel forced to do them or else something is “wrong” with me if I don’t join. That kind of vibe it gives off… So I literally had to change churches and go to one that does not push it on you. I also go to a Catholic Church sometimes. They also do not push things on you. Just being honest.

    Then you get the trips we are forced to go on or they want you to. No, I don’t want to. I am exhausted a lot. Age is not fun. It’s almost like they feel they must fill in time or else they are not doing their job. Not true. Church does not have to be long. It is a refresher. Get the Word, go out and love on people and promote the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST.

    I remember one pastor was speaking of 3 hour services… Are you nuts? If the SPIRIT is moving that day.. Sure. Yes. Otherwise it’s just a preacher who wants to hear himself speak. It’s unfair to people.

    Churches need to stop feeling like you have to force people with programs and meetings up the wazoo. Sorry. I am venting here. Christian Churches are very annoying in that way. Catholic Churches are radically less a pain in that way. Yet you learn more at Christian Churches. But I find peace at Catholic Churches too.

    I have a very humble pastor now. He has been in it a long time. Yet he still sheds tears during service. He wants to go to HEAVEN badly. Great guy. I do not like Churches where you feel the pastor is the one being worshipped to some degree.

    Thanks for this article. It’s so true. It’s a real turn off about Christian Churches. Stop pushing or forcing groups on people. Maybe it’s truly time for pastors to take a small salary and work an outside job. Otherwise it seems they are looking for ways to “earn” their salary without feeling bad about it. Thumbs down on small groups for the most part.

  36. Colleen

    I believe churches become too large, and then they church does not function well as a body. I believe we were called to spread the gospel that would mean going out not staying in.. It seems to me these large churches have pulled all the small community churches into one large church and they now have lost their effectiveness to spreading the gospel in the various communities around them. I also think too many people can attend and not participate and those who want to participate cant as their is not room left for them. Community cannot happen because its too large people can only support 10 friends maybe and so the 20% of a congregation will always remain on the outskirts as its not sustainable.

  37. Joe M

    The Bible makes clear that we are the church and fellowship requires only two or more people. Small groups? Nonsense. All the work you do benefits each person individually. Its up to God who becomes a disciple. We’re part of the process but we don’t determine the end result.

  38. Cris Jones


    I’m involved in a “life-group”, at our local church. I’m happy for the fellowship which it provides/encourages, but there’s just something which feels sterile, and inorganic. It seems forced. I raised the issue, that I question the “small group” paradigm, and sense that others feel the same way. I searched out your church website, because that’s what I do, to learn a little more about you. I saw that there were forms for joining and starting a small group…(?)

    Not sure what to think.


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