Making Disciples?

By Kent E. Fillinger

What about small groups? Should they be “euthanized,” as Brian Jones asserted (January 23) or promoted, as all the writers in Christian Standard’s March 6 issue suggested? We asked the churches we surveyed for their answer.

For the first time, the churches that participated in this study were asked: “What is the primary method for adult discipleship (spiritual formation) at your church?” Churches were given these three choices to select from: Sunday school classes/adult Bible fellowship classes, small group Bible studies, or a combination of classes and groups.

Here are the findings.

Not a single megachurch in our study offered only Sunday school classes, but 55 percent of the megachurches did offer a combination of classes and groups. Therefore, 45 percent of the megachurches offered only small group Bible studies as their primary means of adult discipleship.

The majority of the emerging megachurches (63 percent) offered a combination of classes and groups as well. This trend also held true for the large- and medium-sized churches, where a combination of classes and groups was used 69 and 71 percent of the time, respectively, to address spiritual formation within these churches.

Consistently, small group Bible studies were the second-most common discipleship strategy used within the emerging megachurches (32 percent), large churches (24 percent), and medium churches (16 percent). Less than 10 percent of the emerging megachurches and large churches offered only adult Bible fellowship classes, and only 13 percent of the medium churches did so.

Does the approach to building disciples affect church growth or baptisms? The statistics seem to indicate it does.

The baptism ratios were the highest for the megachurches, emerging megachurches, and large churches that offered small group Bible studies exclusively. Among the medium churches, the baptism ratio was a close second for the small group-only option.

Likewise, the average church growth rates were the strongest for the megachurches, large churches, and medium churches that offered only small group Bible studies, and again, it was a very close second for the emerging megachurches.

From a statistical standpoint, providing a combination of classes and groups was the next most effective strategy for producing more baptisms and increased church growth last year, when compared to using only Sunday school classes for adult discipleship.

The data indicate that offering only small group Bible studies for adult discipleship positively impacts a church’s growth rate and baptism ratio.

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  1. Tim
    April 20, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Corporate church services must be the focal point of discipleship/spiritual formation. Lately our church services are a mixture of entertainment and psychology driven, pep rally, stand-up comic sermons.

    Corporate services/gatherings are for the saints/Christians not the seeker/nonbeliever. We GO out to our community/neighborhood to reach the nonbeliever and the underchurched.

    Our people need to hear non-seeker messages that increase our knowledge of the Bible; not to be narratively entertained and make them feel good.

  2. June 4, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    […] a later article, the Standard reports the results of a statistical study done comparing growth and baptism rates depending on whether a church offers Sunday school classes […]

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