Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups

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. January 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    As a minister, and speaking only from my own experience, I could not agree more. All that ends up happening in any “forced” small groups in our church is that people end up sitting around, answering some questions. They make good students, BUT, they are not disciples (there is a huge difference). On the flip-side, groups that have started “accidentally” are much more inclined to live and share real life together, get involved outside the walls of the church, and actually BE disciples, as they motivate and feed off of each other and the circumstances and people they actually go out and connect with. It’s exactly the kind of stuff Willow Creek found out when they did their “Reveal” research not too many years back–though they had strong small groups and people were VERY busy in them, they found that no one was really becoming a disciple. They were great Bible students, for sure. But they were not disciples and actively engaged in the world outside of the calendar and walls of the church and its building.

  2. Jeanene
    January 28, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks, Brian, for your candor and your openness. I agree with much of what you say and that of a responder, John McArthur. It seems that too often we want to get in cozy groups of believers and “discuss,” when we, and the fallen world, might be better served by going out into the trenches, wherever they may be, to “rescue the perishing.”

    What I find a bit curious is the unkind, intolerant, and un-Christlike comments made by those who are supposedly benefitting from participating in small groups. God help us to be more considerate of other’s opinions, more logical in our thinking, and more Christ-honoring in our dialogue.

  3. Ben Wall
    January 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I would tend to agree with most of this article. I think that one of the main problems is not the small groups, but the fact that we take our same organizational mentality into the small group. When we begin to embrace the reality that Jesus gave all authority to each one of us before he went back to Heaven, not just a few people at the top with supposed authority. When we begin to live out the reality of who we are in Christ, we are beginning to make disciples, no matter what part of the road we are on. Unfortunately, too often we have leadership that feels they have to be in charge, instead of leaders who are leading because they have been there before and have a passion to help others avoid some of the pitfalls that they have gotten stuck in. If I am not being actively led or discipled, then I am not fit to lead. We try to push the rope instead of pull it. Instead we should be encouraging others to climb over the log or rock that we just came over. We as leaders think sometimes that we are so far ahead of the pack, when it really is not the case. Too often we are too afraid of embarrassment or failure to let each person freely function and participate in the way they need to, or know how. Jesus taught that we should come as we are and participate, not get a few things straight, or right, and then participate.

  4. January 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I find it most interesting that Brian Jones gives a good degree of compliments to “small groups,” then proceeds to jerk the rug out from under them. And besides that, it is not the small groups that are the problem. If it is of God, it wll NOT fail, no doubt about that. On the other hand, of course, if small groups are not of God, then yes, they will fail flat on their faces.

    The body of Christ I worship with enjoys “small groups.” Only we call them our FAMILY group and we meet in one another’s homes just like the first-century disciples did from Pentecost on. Yes, we fellowship and help one another grow spiritually . . . including holding one another accountable. As for evangelizing and studying the Bible with those who are interested . . . we let the individual make up his or her own mind about that. We plant the seeds and God gives the increase. How much more Scriptural can we get? It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and we are not about to go against HIM. Quite the contrary, we humbly and prayerfully invite such opportunities.

    Further, one of the ways we evangelize is to go out, say, to a public coffee house or college campus, and hold a Bible/Prayer Talk. Anyone who so desires may sit in and feel free to ask questions while we check to see what God says about any issue that may arise. Yes, it is somewhat organized . . . but only by the grace of God and according to the Spirt’s leading. As the apostle Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And HE died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for HIM Who died for them and was raised again” [2 Corinthians 5:14-15].

  5. thinkingman
    January 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    There are some excellent points in this article. Now let’s discuss all those well-funded, well-scripted, “busy as bees,” business model, seeker-friendly churches that truly are “a mile wide and an inch deep.” As a healthy church grows, small groups by necessity will develop as the Lord weaves relationships together in His own sovereign way.

    I do however think Brian was a little hard on those of us who have been planting churches (beginning with small groups) for many years now. I much prefer it to sending out 150 or more people who really don’t know each other that well in the first place from a much larger church to become the next overnight sensation in church planting. I don’t really see that pattern in the N.T., and as time goes on we may discover that a lot of what we have called “success” in this type of “church planting” is woefully lacking in the essentials.

    Regardless of how we go about church planting, I pray we will see the importance of discipleship within the larger community of believers in our local churches, as well as more within those special networks of friends the Lord has sovereignly placed us with.

  6. Sheila
    January 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve been in both kinds of groups! Guess which I prefer? There are times when the get-together and hang-out groups are very healthy–for a limited time. How do you teach sensitivity to the leading of God to move on?

  7. January 29, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty! All any group needs is the Spirit of the Lord leading them, guiding them, and teaching them! What about the people who want fellowship but cannot leave their home due to some disability? Are they not worthy of fellowship with other believers? Do you really think the entire church will assemble in their home? Please!

  8. Mark
    January 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I agree with the author that there are lots of problems with the way that small groups are currently implemented in the majority of churches here in the US. However, his theory “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?” is naive. We need a major overhaul in the way small groups are done, not to eliminate them altogether with no other attempts to lead people down the countercultural path toward biblical community and discipleship. Even in the midst of the all the problems, there are more success stories (at least in the groups I have overseen) than if we killed all the small groups and “taught” the value of community and discipleship without providing any opportunities for application. I’ll keep trying to refine our groups until someone comes up with a better alternative.

  9. January 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    alright Randal! some one who gets it!! you are absolutely right, if God is the center of it, it will not fail.. watched several small groups increase a lot in just a short period of time, its a matter of hangin’ with it and not looking solely at numbers!!

  10. Jason
    January 31, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    “his theory “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?” is naive. We need a major overhaul in the way small groups are done, not to eliminate them altogether with no other attempts to lead people down the countercultural path toward biblical community and discipleship. Even in the midst of the all the problems, there are more success stories”

    Well said.

    Its easy to sit back and make unsubstantiated claims about small groups and not give any path to what your version of biblical community and discipleship looks like. There are many small groups that get it wrong but their are many that get it right. To bad there are exactly 0 facts backing up what is said in this article.

    With that said, the challenge to missional discipleship, I believe can happen in the context of small groups but it doesn’t always. I appreciate the challenge by the author to refine the way that we do things but attacking something with no substantial solution in my opinion makes for a weak article.

  11. David
    January 31, 2011 at 6:18 pm


    I’ll try anything to lead people to become devoted followers of Christ. Right now I think small groups is the best tool we have. They aren’t perfect, but neither was Sunday night worship, Wed. evening Bible study or Sunday School.

    What’s your solution to the problem?

  12. Will Singer
    February 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Your blanket statement that small groups do not create disciples is a generalization that might speak to your experience, but not so to all in the church. Small groups equip, teach, and train their members for the “getting out there in the world” you’re talking about. If the spiritual life ends at the small group and it produces no fruit, that is different, but don’t judge all groups by some. Certainly there are good small groups as well as bad ones. Well-organized and supported leaders seeking God’s direction for their group make the difference.

    If you are looking for the Holy Spirit to Lead, what better place to get in touch with him than in fellowship with a group of other Christians who know your strengths and weaknesses and know what your current struggles are?

    I thank God for my small group regularly. It has been a difference maker in my life and for others in it!

  13. February 1, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve been in some outstanding groups and have grow immensely because of small group experiences. The common thread – godly, mature Christian leaders who poured their life into me and the rest of the group. Most other groups failed.

    What’s the solution? Join a secular book club, gym, bike riding association, PTA and love people who don’t know Jesus. Disciple someone by bringing them along and letting them watch you be Jesus to the people around you. Give that younger believer some opportunities and coach them when they don’t do so well. Pray for those you are discipling – regularly – both with them and privately.

    The bottom line is that discipleship takes time. 2 hours a week won’t cut it!

  14. Tony Coccia
    February 1, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I’ve said many times before and I will repeat it yet again: “God has created humankind with the ability to speak enthusiastically about anything we are excited about.” As I said here, so now I say again: “God has created humankind with the ability to speak enthusiastically about anything we are excited about.” Our hearts will be where our treasure is. The solution is to be salt and light. It doesn’t matter if people meet in a small group, heart group, family group, AA group, NA group, ladies’ group, men’s group, work group, quilting group, scrapbooking group, or a groupie group. Do God’s children, brothers of Christ, share their faith? Do God’s children, brothers of Christ, allow fear to impede them from giving an answer for the hope that they have? The only, I repeat, only reason why (*) groups should be considered unsuccessful is if people are not being brought to faith in Christ. And Matthew 25 (part 3) gives us all the reason we need to know and understand what we disciples need to be doing. Meet the needs of the poor, encourage one another; and bring people to obedient faith in Christ. There, and only there, do we find the substantial solution(s) Jason alluded to. All of us need to ask ourselves these questions: Who do I know who came to faith in Christ as a result of something I did? Did I invite, did I serve a need, did I build a relationship for possible friendship evangelism? Did I plant a seed somewhere, did I water somewhere? (*) groups do a good job of mutual edification, a precursor to moving the group to act, and provide an atmosphere of learning for prospective converts.

  15. BLW
    February 3, 2011 at 12:05 am

    Right off the bat I’d just like to say how sad I am that Mr.Jones feels this way. As I see it, small groups is one answer to one of THE biggest challenges Christians face today. I completely agree that small groups is not the place where creating disciples (as he refers to witnessing in the article) is going to happen abundantly, it does grow, water, and feed disciples who have already made a commitment of faith. Now I agree, as a Christian, sharing the hope of Jesus with those who have never heard is always foremost in my mind and heart, in my short life I have sadly seen SO many people attracted to church events, programs, or just attending on Sundays but real growth never happens. I think the small group model (which by the way is based off the very biblical house church model). In our own church in the past 5 years, there have been several people who have come to make the decision to be baptized and everyone will shout God’s praises they have made the decision they have, but after continued efforts to get them to get deeper in their faith they soon become “we show up once in a while” for church services. It sad really because I think this is a huge deception that Satan is getting away with. He’s watching countless people respond to the call in baptism but then drop the ball in faith and discipleship. We are created to be an ever growing, constantly learning and maturing body of believers. We are suppose to learn from our mistakes and by the grace of God not continue to make the same ones over and over again!
    Mr. Jones is not seeing the real purpose of small groups. It is not the ideal place or intended for witnessing or “discipling” (actually I hate using the term discipling, because I think that does happen in the s.g. arena). It is so that these baby Christians that are a part of our bigger church’s or older, stale, sedentiary Christians of small congregations can actually look at their lives in a personal real discussion way, real life application so that they can then get “out there” (out of the church playground) and stand on their own two feet.
    It is so incredibly sad to me that many know with their heart and mind that Jesus has done an awesome thing for them and that he wants whats best for them, but when faced with hard times out of their control, or temptations or decisions, they don’t know how to apply Godly principles to, or how to act or respond to what’s going on in a Christ-honoring way. We are weak as a society of Christians and that is NOT who God has called us to be. No growth leaves a stunted, misshapped, twisted creature that you aren’t able to call an adult. In the physical sense as well as the spiritual sense.
    Ok, another of his points was based around the idea of a natural gathering of minds between friends and how awesome that growth is and how it is impossible to actually grow in a stilted, forced group. WOW there were so many thoughts about this. First off the only thing I can think of is what a selfish viewpoint! But wait let me get into that… yes it is nice when you have friends of similar intersts and backgrounds who are spiritually minded and it is an awesome blessing from God when you are in a time in your life when you can easily get into the rhythm of bantering and stretching each other’s minds. Does Mr. Jones honestly think you can’t grow as a Christian when you are placed in a group that you pray and study the Word with weekly when they are from a different generation or with completely different backgrounds? Seriously? That is the time you normally GROW the most. Sure its fun to banter with a group that knows all the same movies, jokes, 80’s music etc but what a vast amount of knowledge you actually get to taste when you are thrown in with someone that you wouldn’t normally CHOOSE to! Yes it may be hard to find ways to relate, especially when there are opposite personalities at play, but what a GOD honoring moment when you do come together and learn to grow together! Seriosuly, I am so amazed by Mr. Jones selfish viewpoint.
    As far as Mr. Jones point about people going home unchallenged and unchanged, that sad point lies purely with the recipient. We live in an era where many Christians go to church with the idea that it is the “church’s” job to motivate us, to lift us up, to get us on the right path… hello? where’s my own responsibility as a church body member? When in college I remember being on a music ministry team that would travel several weekends out of the month to various church’s to sing and give testimony’s… mainly to put a plug in for the college but whatever. When I first started doing that, almost everyweek I would get back Sunday evenings depressed about the church we’d go to. Really old hymns, preachers with no passion droning on and on with little to know application, congregation with money apparently and no real life in them. I also remember writing in my journal during one such visit… it basically read, “this church is completely DEAD there is no Spirit here.” I was in a selfish mode and during that visit to a little church of who knows where God convicted me and opened my eyes. I had been sitting for weeks criticizing what I was seeing and not realizing the Spirit doesn’t only travel in churchs that have all their i’s dotted and t’s crossed, or only use the latest technology, or various art forms to enhance the service. The spirit moves when I take responsibility for my own heart and when I allow the spirit to be present. From that point on…no matter what type or kind of service (& I’ve sat through a BIG variety let me tell you)I always enter the service with the attitude and goal of “what is the Spirit going to show me today through this” when I have that unselfish attitude, it doesn’t matter how bad a special is in a church that still does the token “specials” or how many times the minister gets flustered “uh uh uh uh uh” or how many sound difficulties I have to sit through, if there is a group of believers meeting together, the Spirit wants my heart to be softened and ready to respond. I have found the most unusual things have touched me in the most unusual places and not because everything went “just right” or were “so cool” they blew me away, but because my heart was looking. That’s my job when I enter a time of worship, is for MY heart to be ready. So with that whole long story being said, Mr. Jones argument that we can’t really bond or really connect or grow if it isn’t in a group that develops from our own natural interests… I guess that’s true if you have a hard unwilling heart. So the reality is, Mr. Jones may represent a group of people who are so eager to go out and witness/disciple the lost but aren’t willing to grow and mature the body of Christ by actually getting to know those we aren’t too eager in getting to know with in the body of Christ…. hmmm.. sounds to me like a pretty weak body.
    I’m sure there are more points I could go on about, Take everything with a grain of salt and hold it up to the standard we have already been given. Yes witnessing to the lost is important, but I believe having a body of believers that doesn’t fold like a deck of cards in the face of a world against Christ would be nice too.

  16. Administrator Author
    February 3, 2011 at 10:33 am


    Here at First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, we have small groups. In one small group a man is active whose wife left him. The small group is his support and has been wonderful to help him through this. In another a young couple who did not go to Sunday school found support. They went on to become house parents at Pinehaven Christian Children’s Ranch. We are very close to this couple and feel that without the small group they might not have become active enough in the church to step out as they did. In these two cases what the people received was support to carry on to the next step. I got to wondering how many people accepted Christ because of being in a Sunday school class. I appreciate Brian Jones wanting all contacts to accept Christ. It seems to me that there are other worthwhile reasons for the groups to exist.
    Thank you,
    Ina Mae Jackson

  17. February 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Interesting article.

    I disagree with it entirely; especially the premise from which the author argues, but I found one part of the argument particularly weak. The author stated, “But for every story of success about a small group creating an authentic disciple, my hunch is there are three times as many failures…”


    Could we not say the same for church planting? That for every success story of one new church planted in a city somewhere, there are three times as many failures? My question is, so what? Isn’t that they way it is? I’m glad church planters do not share the same pessimism as the author does for small groups.

    I suppose, at the end of the day, the author is correct that some small group programs at some churches are not successful. However, we need to be careful not to broad stroke the entire concept because of one author’s experience and his consultation’s experience. Where are the statistics to support his claims? Where is his biblical evidence to do away with small groups? At least small group supporters use something of scripture (Acts 2) even if he disagrees.

    This article was interesting not because it was challenging or thought-provoking, but because of the logical leaps it took the author draws a conclusion which, ironically, hinders church growth.

  18. Myka Bradley
    February 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Brian Jones actually said at one point, “in my humble opinion.” My biggest problem with the article is that there was nothing “humble” about it. It was arrogant, condescending, negative, and unfair to the many wonderful Christians who have not only participated in small groups, but who have also been led to do many wonderful works for the kingdom. To make fun of people for praying, and making fun of “prayer requests” is rather sad.

  19. Mark Frenier
    February 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Please read the entire response or you will miss that which drives this reply.

    The first thing I would like to share is that the body of Christ is multi-faceted and because of that many processes will be used by the Lord to accomplish His goals, but I do feel that properly designed and implemented small groups are one of the ways that are extremely effective for helping to develop true disciples of Christ. This rebuttal space will not allow me sufficient room to address all of the concepts that need to be touched on but here are a few.

    In the 3rd paragraph these words are printed “The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple” that is a very bold and sweeping statement. A few supporting stats would be nice to see on this statement, but I see none. I can say just the opposite, “90% of small groups do produce disciples”. It is easy to throw out statements like that but not very intellectually honest unless you can back them up and if so that research should have been listed.

    Later in the article it says(I put in a running commentary on this part in CAPS) “I wasn’t looking for it. I wasn’t interested in joining a small group in the least”. YES THAT IS WHAT MOST PEOPLE THINK AND FEEL WHEN WE TALK ABOUT SMALL GROUPS “And in many respects, I didn’t even feel a need to grow spiritually.” RIGHT AGAIN, AND YET, IN A SMALL GROUP YOU DID GROW, HOW INTERESTING.


    One more comment from the article, although there could be much more, “American churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership” IF THAT IS WHAT HE (AGAIN FROM HIS DESCRIPTION) HAS DONE THEN HE HAS ANSWERED HIS OWN QUESTION AND DESTROYED HIS OWN PREMISE “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. “AND IF THE LEADERS ARE DISCIPLES, WHnoICH IS WHAT THEY SHOULD BE AND ARE LEADING THOSE GROUPS, THEN WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN THAT SITUATION? MAYBE DISCIPLES WOULD BE MADE, HUM, WHAT A NOVEL IDEA.

    The last thing I want to point out that I have difficulty with concerning this article is that if you go to the website of the church Brian serves you will find an entire tab devoted to …. small groups?!?!? What is all that about and not only that, a staff member whose entire role it is apparently to head up, and make successful …. small groups, again?!?!?

    Now I need to share what drove me to share these comments as I alluded to at the beginning. We urge all of our people to read the Christian Standard each week. And so many do. When this article came out we had people that we had been working on to include them in this disciple making process that brought the article to me and other leaders in our church and said, “See, this small group stuff is bunk, it says so right here!” You know disciple making is difficult enough without having the rug pulled out from under you by the trusted materials you use and brothers in Christ. So I have probably been a little more curt then I should have, but for me, this article made our task of disciple making harder not easier. And I believe that is unfortunate.

    Thanks and if I have misrepresented anything stated in this article I will be happy to share my apologies.

  20. February 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    This is a reminder to our readers to scroll up and see Brian’s response some time ago to the comments posted by then. For one thing, he does refer to the role of the small groups and their leader at his church. Keep reading! We have an issue devoted to many positive aspects of small groups coming in March.

  21. Cynthia Rexford
    February 8, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Matthew 18:20
    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    1 Corinthians 12: 4-12
    Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
    And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
    And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
    But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
    For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
    To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
    To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
    But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
    For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

    Ephesians 4:3-7
    Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
    There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
    One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
    One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
    But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

    Brother, there is purpose in all things, great and small, that work together for the common good of the will of God.
    …and I would like to reapeat this verse:
    Matthew 18:20
    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

    May God Bless you with peace and wisdom.

  22. Mary
    February 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I just think it is interesting when you look on the website for the church where the author ministers that there are 50 groups, including a Texas Hold’em group.

    Jesus started the first small group when he chose his disciples. They didn’t always get it right either…. thinking they were going to overthrow the Romans, arguing over who would be most important in the new kingdom…. but from that small group, amazing things happened for the Kingdom.

    Not all small groups are bad because some are bad, just like not all megachurches are bad because some are bad.

  23. Brent
    February 10, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Wow… I’m sure this article is a real motivation for those 50 group leaders. I’m afraid this is telling of the author’s leadership style; to pull the rug out from under one of the very ministries in his body of believers?? I venture a guess that the devil is fighting furiously some of those group leaders that are not measuring up in human terms but bordering on a breakthrough in the spiritual; for that leader to see this article may very well be the last straw.

    For that group leader hopefully you will read this: Pray, seek God’s leading, don’t lean on your own understanding, and BE OBEDIENT, even in the face of opposition from your own people. God can speak through a barn animal but can’t use a group of believer’s opening his word together?? For some reason God chose broken vessels to carry an amazing message. If God called me to disciple a few using the gift of *basket weaving* I would pray I would have the discernment to hear, the faith to step out, and resolve from feet fitted with the readiness of the Spirit. Galatians 6:9

  24. Aaron
    February 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I love what he had to say . . . but then i take it a step further in the part where he asks if Jesus would join your small group . . . would Jesus want to be at your church?

    I have been thinking about this for a bit, as I have been in charge of leading small groups, we do a semester thing but it doesn’t really work.

    I always thought small groups that come together not to be small groups but to be missional groups would be way better. They get together to go out in the community and do work, rub shoulders with the lame, sick, blind, and lost. Not sit in our houses talking about the homeless!

    Thanks for this Brian!

  25. Donna Goodell
    February 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    We formed a small group of prospective leaders to teach them how to lead a small group discussion, how to listen, and how to respond. That small group of members soon became a cohesive group, willing to take on leadership roles in the church. We called the class “Listening for Heaven’s Sake.” It was a 13 week course. Out of that group surprisingly came 6 Sabbath School teachers, an elder willing to preach sermons, a Grief Support small group leader, a Health and Happiness group leader, and 4 members willing to conduct Prayer Meeting when our pastor had surgery. My strong belief is that if you have a strong Christ-centered curriculum, teach the skills, and give members the self-confidence to know they can lead, that kind of small group certainly does work.

    Donna Goodell, Elder
    Newark SDA Church

  26. February 18, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I can say I appreciated the article greatly. Because it made me think. And that’s what I think Brian was trying to get each of us to do….to think about how we are making disciples in our churches. Has anyone found the perfect way? No. But each of us can look for ways to make our processes better. Thanks Brian for a thought-provoking article…and obviously a comment-provoking one as well!

  27. February 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    AMEN! Finally someone with the guts to admit that they are not following Jesus today because of a church manufactured small group experience.

    Let’s be honest. Look at the facts and shift our methods. Every small group experience I’ve ever had is lame. People are great but God uses people you look up to, admire and that are passionately following Jesus to disciple you, really it’s the Holy Spirit in them.

    Thanks for your article!


  28. David Peterson
    February 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I have to admit that I was a little surprised at this article, but I realize the intent is spark thought and dialogue, which can be healthy. I do caution against broad, blanket generalizations, especially when we run the risk of harming churches that are experiencing desired results from their small group ministry. I look back at the last seven years of my experiences in my small group and I see multiple new groups launched, over two dozen baptisms, high accountability, dramatic life transformation after lives of crime, drug/alcohol abuse, etc. We are serving each other, our neighbors, and other service projects. We assess where we are in our spiritual walk and are actively working on pursuing appropriate next-steps in our spiritual journey. Yet the article says that small groups aren’t working. Forgive me if I appear a bit perplexed…

    I believe that we have to be careful to not confuse our mission with our methodology. It is true that if a church’s small group ministry has no plan or vision, it can be a mediocre or even poor experience for its participants. But the same could be said for Sunday School, outreach events, and even a preacher’s sermons. Does that mean they should all be euthanized? I hope not. I hope we find methods that can most effectively minister to our people in our communities and then put thought and creativity into making them the most effective means of making disciples that they can possibly be.

    With a small group’s incredible potential given its ability to build community, accountability, and deep relationships, I still truly believe that small groups can be one of the church’s most valuable tools in making mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

  29. Administrator Author
    February 22, 2011 at 12:19 pm


    I believe he [Brian Jones] is right regarding the institutionalized/mandated effort to try small groups. It works about as well as an evangelistic series–a lot of effort with few results. But organic groups like the youth group he talked about can be powerful.

    He mentions that Jesus would not have been part of a small group, except for the disciples, of course (Oops), but I do not think he would have associated with only one denomination. Jesus spoke and interacted with different types of Jews. He would speak to the truths and question some of the misconceptions of God and the Bible within each of the denominations, just like he did in Revelation about the seven churches.

    But we are not to forsake the gathering together, however that may look. Whether it be traditional church, home church, small group, or something else, God leads us to be his witness. WE WILL KNOW IT IS FROM HIM IF IT IS MEANINGFUL AND GENUINE.

    Keep your eyes on Jesus, my friend. He is coming soon.

  30. Jenna Guerette
    February 25, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I just loved this article. My experience has been that small groups create cliques and cause those in them to reside in a friendship box. All friendships are maintained with only those in the small group. Once you leave the group these friendships no longer exist. It is such a shallow and emergent effort to make believers feel like they belong. Small groups seem to be put together like sports teams. Sign up and you will be assigned to a group. I detest small groups and find that they do great harm to the Christian community.

  31. Brad
    February 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    A few year ago, the Christian Standard published a very well written article that dealt with the subject of why small groups aren’t for everybody. Simply stated, from my memory, the authors stated that some people gravitate toward a large group of people and some to a small. We do a great injustice to people by trying to pigeon-hole them. I have served in congregations, I have lead small group ministries, but my greatest growth has been with one or two other men being challenged by the Holy Spirit and each other. So it does go back to the individual’s preference, but it seems as though Scripture advocates for all of them in some form.
    Brian’s article is a great wake-up call!

  32. Mark
    March 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

    The article was very interesting. I loved the thought provoking statement of the author as much as I did the comments that I have read so far. I think that its great that we are open to having conversations over the Sacred Cow of small groups. But why stop there? Until we are open to looking at all the things our religion is capable of..what are we keeping God out of? I was a member of a small group that was a social club…that is until we let God join and then great Bible study and discipleship started happening.
    Thank you to everyone for your comments, it has really sparked my thoughts towards small groups and the evaluation process.

  33. Pat Brown
    March 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Finally, someone to relieve me of my guilt for failing to take part in my church’s small group ministry. Years ago my husband and I served in congregations and participated, as well as, led several small groups. We experienced exactly what Brian talks about. We found the provided study guides to be lacking in spiritual depth and just scratching the surface of true discipleship. Granted, we developed some great and lasting friendships over the years, but we didn’t really change people’s lives. Since that time we have found true discipleship in serving and ministering to people in need (whether physical, financial, or spiritual) wherever we happen to meet them. God is good, Jesus is our Lord and Savior, and we try to proclaim that every day!

  34. Jim
    March 2, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Brian, if you are so against small groups, why then are you a main speaker at a conference on small groups in April at Cincinnati Christian University?

  35. Jim
    March 4, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Not sure what I think of the authors viewpoint, so I’ll just say this – when Brian Jones shares his thoughts and opinions I listen. So he’s got a point of view. And, yes, he shares that viewpoint with some apparent certainty in his own analysis. If his opinions seem reactionary, I know that his thoughts and responses are thought out, and not “knee-jerk.” Did you hear his NACC message? Bold and brassy – like NACC speakers used to be! So agree or disagree, I celebrate a man in our movement who has the kuhonas to think it, speak it, and write it! GO Mr. Jones!

  36. March 4, 2011 at 5:00 am

    The article overgeneralizes small groups ministries, assumes there is an agreed upon definition of what constitutes ‘making disciples’, and assumes structure that may or may not be there (e.g. curriculum, study guides, leaders, DVDs, etc.)

    Our small groups are modeled after Neil Cole’s Life Transformation Groups. They meet “out there” in the marketplace, do not use a curriculum other than the Scriptures themselves, are ‘leaderless’ apart from the presence of the living, resurrected Jesus, require that participants prayerfully read large portions of Scripture on a regular basis, expect that participants will share what’s going on their lives in light of a missional reading of scripture, pray for the lost and hurting in ways that implicate the group members in their own prayers (i.e. assume that the one praying may in fact be the answer to the prayer).

    The benefit of such meetings is the formation of relationships within the community where the groups meet. Almost half of our congregation who is involved are reading large portions of scripture on a regular basis. Those who meet together are deepening friendships among themselves as well as with those in whose presence these groups meet on a regular basis. They are understanding more about how scripture addresses them as followers of Jesus. They are praying regularly and getting involved in the lives of those for whom they pray.

    Out of our small groups we have generated a food ministry that currently cares for several families as well as strengthened other ministries in our church, in large part, because those who participate communicate more regularly with one another.

    We have helped other congregations start such a ‘small group” ministry as well and have witnessed the growth of such groups in many diverse settings.

    Do you think we should ‘euthanize’ these groups?

  37. Kevin Huntsinger
    March 4, 2011 at 10:33 am

    This article is his opinion and nothing else. I find it sad that he feels this way. Small groups work on many different levels. Small groups help where the church oftentimes can’t.

    If you are in a church and feel lonely, it’s YOUR fault and not the churches. Get involved in a small group.

  38. March 16, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Don’t have Brian throw out the bathwater!

  39. April 1, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I like being as radical as the next guy, and for generating heat, this is awesome.

    Sadly, I’d be willing to bet significant amounts of money his first group with Deron, Dave & Jeff didn’t happen “by accident” or naturally. I’m sure someone was intentionally creating the environment where spiritual growth happened. If Brian’s premise that true discipleship happens “by accident” and “naturally” were true, then nearly every group of believing friends would be producing disciples. Since we know that is false, his premise is false.

    It seems the real problem Brian sees is the church, “impotent” and unable to deal with “postmodern realities.” Abandoning a method wont’ cure that problem. It’s gonna take something other than a method to change the body of Jesus.

    I’d love to see this making disciples program from the “potent” and “postmodern” church that happens by accident and naturally. But, when you discover it, please don’t write a book. We’d hate to have to see you as a “so-called” expert!

  40. April 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

    […] Interesting article by Brian Jones and why all churches should kill their small groups ministry. It seems as if this idea is in vogue right now. It sounds radical and cutting edge. But in reality it’s one man’s brave announcement that he doesn’t have the time or energy to rethink small groups. I would agree with some of the article, but not the conclusion. It’s time to resuscitate, not give up. Here’s an excerpt. You can read the whole thing here. […]

  41. Zac
    April 24, 2011 at 2:41 am

    I disagree with this 100%!

    “The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever.”
    – depends on how you term the word “disciple.” If you mean to say “converts,” then the small group is definitely not the best avenue for that. The small group is an avenue for Christians to build each other up and strengthen each other, to be accountable to one another.

    “They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure.”
    – Yeah . . . this is just too subjective. Small groups allow for friendships. All the credit for the shallowness part is given to the participant.

    “They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church.”
    – wrong again. I have a lot of friends who are members of different small groups even outside of their local church.

    “And they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture.”
    – So, influencing new Christians to “get married instead of having a live-in partner” and “read the Bible every day” and to “trust God” and to “love one another” is nothing but an “act” Christians do in the Evangelical 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”
    – You be the judge.

    “It just happened, naturally and spontaneously.”
    – Oh so biblically speaking, Jesus kinda just bumped into the other guys like Matthew, Peter, and John and they just “clicked”? It’s like wow! Suddenly those guys were growing spiritually? Weren’t those guys invited to Jesus’ group in the first place?

    “Would Jesus join a small group in your church?”
    – Ummm . . . yeah, looking at the Bible, it looked like he even led one!

  42. Zac
    April 24, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Oh, and another thing—about small groups doing absolutely NOTHING but talk to themselves? Maybe it’s just the article writer’s observation, but based on my experience, these “useless small groups” that I have been part of have been volunteering on orphanage visits and medical missions.

    The small group is nothing but an avenue for Christians to fellowship with one another and to build each other up—and THE SMALL GROUP WILL REFLECT THE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE PART OF THAT GROUP. A group of snobby, stuck-up Christians who care only about themselves will definitely produce a snobby, stuck-up small group.

  43. Bill
    May 1, 2011 at 9:36 am

    If it were not for a church that did small groups I would not be a Christian today. I was first invited to a small group 30 years ago when I was an agnostic. Almost all our outreach and all of our discipling came through small groups. Sadly it is hard to find that today, but this is how it was done in Acts and this is how we did it 30 years ago. Since the author of this article can’t make it work it is much easier to say “get rid of them” rather than admit his own fault. It seems to me there is very little genuine outreach and discipling going on to day in the Christian church today period.

  44. November 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm


    I find your article shortsighted and just plain odd in light of this link:


  45. Macksfield
    December 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Dave wrote: “I’d love to see this making disciples program from the “potent” and “postmodern” church that happens by accident and naturally.”

    Excellent point Dave. Looking back our memories become so much more elegant and effective. I guess anyone can put the cross hairs on a concept or idea and assail it with insinuating questions. That’s the easy part.

  46. January 2, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Brian,

    You make a good point in your analysis that we start small groups with and at the wrong point. In addition, we have not maintained the main goal of discipleship, transformation. The most effective discipleship small group the world has ever known were the apostles. They were new in Christ, which made them disciples of Christ. They were transformed from ordinary men to the most influential men the world has ever known. The church has replaced the concept of being new in Christ with organizations and programs with the goal of fellowship and lost the goal of discipleship (2 Timothy 2:2).

    My soon to be published book, New in Christ, starts with a relationship with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), builds on it and goes on with discipleship as its goal (Matthew 28:19, 20). Most discipleship material is weak. By that I mean it does not include some tough essentials like: coming to the end of yourself, dying to self (1 Corinthians 15:31), total surrender and transformation (Romans 12:1-3), new identity, exchanging our flesh life with new life in Christ by yielding (Ephesians 4:20-24). In addition, New in Christ contains the Aldrich story, a running novel authenticating the growth of a family. Then this study workbook goes on with how to walk out the transformation with subjects like Exchanging Your Ought Tos For Want Tos.

    We have discipled hundreds effectively with this material over the past 20 years.

  47. February 12, 2012 at 12:44 am

    As I’ve read the article and the responses, I believe there are some foundational issues which have not been considered but which should be.

    First, we need to realize that for everything which is of God, the world, the religious people, and the devil have counterfeits of them. We see it with the fruit of the Spirit. There are those who are unregenerated who may appear to live lives which are more noble than many regenerated Christians. We see unregenerated who give selflessly to others, have great patience, kindness, or seem to exemplify faithfulness in relationships, etc. We see counterfeit churches which appear to imitate the true Church of Jesus Christ. So, should it be any surprise if there are small groups which may appear to be what we see depicted in the New Testament, yet which are not. Of course, the counterfeit, if examined closely (or in some cases, maybe not so closely), will be found to be deficient and in some cases abhorrent. So, I would suggest that the issue of small groups is not to be the focus of small groups.

    Second, let us recognize that the two greatest commands are both relationship based. The greatest, Christ said, is to love God with all you are and have. The second is to love your neighbour as yourself. Christ continued to say that ALL the Law and prophets (in other words, all of Scripture) is summed up in these two commands. We cannot ignore that both of these commands are RELATIONSHIP issues – first with God, then with others. Our makeup, as Christians should not be organizationally, politically, or “club” based, but rather relationship-based with other people.

    This second point is extremely important. When one studies group dynamics, one will discover that the closest of friend relationships can only extend to several people – two or three. One’s next closest friend relationships can only be maintained at a level of about 12 or so. The next level of friendship can extend to a level of about 30 people. Beyond this level, contacts can only be maintained at the level of acquaintance.

    The reason for this is because true friendship relationships require a time commitment to maintain and grow. As humans, we are limited by time and resources to pour into a relationship. As a result, there are certain things this should tell us about our close relationships as born-again Christian believers. God designed us to exist within community with close friends of about 3 – 12 and a larger group of friends consisting of about 30.

    We see these group dynamics at work in the New Testament and the examples it sets for us. Christ had apostles which consisted of twelve. Out of these twelve, He had three with whom He was very close – Peter, James, and John. We continue to see small group dynamics at work as we observe the New Testament Church meeting together in individual homes. How many people could most homes of the average sort comfortably accommodate for a gathering in New Testament times? Probably similar to the average present day home – up to about 30.

    Those who have studied small groups generally agree that the best group dynamics are achieved at a level of about 12 – 15. They can function reasonably well up to about 30. A self-propogating group should consider splitting into two once it exceeds the level of about 15 people.

    So, we see the science of small group dynamics and the New Testament examples agreeing.

    Let’s also consider the functions of the Church of the New Testament. First and foremost, is Christ’s final command to make disciples. True disciple making involves a great deal of time and personal interaction between the disciple and the disciple-maker.

    At first glance, it may seem that Paul’s disciple-making doesn’t seem to fit this requirement. Often, he seems to have planted churches in various places having spent relatively little time at those places. However, let us consider that in those places Paul focussed on the Jewish synagogues. The people belonging to these synagogues were very well steeped in Jehovah’s Law, Jewish history, and the prophets of the Old Testament. Once Paul explained that Christ was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament and that having ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to take Christ’s place and function within the lives of believers, it resulted in fairly well spiritually-educated believers. Today, however, many newly born-again Christians come from a Biblically ignorant pagan society and require much teaching and discipling (by example) to result in well-grounded and strong disciples, able then to disciple others.

    Often, today’s western churches have mistaken classroom type instruction for the discipling depicted in the New Testament. A close study of the issue of disciple-making found in the New Testament reveals that Christian discipling more closely resembles the western concept of apprenticeship we find in the trades. I have worked in the trades, and in Ontario, Canada, where I live, one who apprentices to be a plumber, for example, must apprentice for five years before he is permitted to write the exam for his licence. Interestingly, total classroom time is only 6 months (split into 3 two-month periods) out of the 5 year apprenticeship. The other four-and-a half years are spent on the job – ideally working beside the master plumber, observing how he does the work and learning in this manner to put the theory learned in the classroom into practice.

    So, if we apply this knowledge to a small group setting, we understand that the discipler(s) will be investing much time with the disciple – usually much more that one evening for 90 minutes. It works well if those involved in the small group are in the same geographical area, where the interaction of true discipling is made much easier due to the closer proximity. The practical benefits of close proximity include less travel time, easier natural interaction (especially if in the same neighbourhood), easier and more natural outreaches to the non-saved in the neighbourhood, and it is easier to develop closer friendships (e.g. sharing in practical ministry to one another, such as blowing snow from a fellow believer’s driveway, babysitting, etc.). After all, didn’t Christ say the world would know we are His disciples by the love we express to one another. This can be very obvious if taking place in the same neighbourhood or geographical neighbourhood between believers living there.

    This type of close relationship also has a more natural aspect of spiritual accountability and growth. If you are interacting with a Christian brother or sister several times during a typical week – with some of those encounters being of a more natural type (e.g. having coffee at one another’s homes or other social interactions), then it is easy to detect problems arising within a brother or sister’s life (e.g. substance abuse, marital problems, parenting issues, etc.).

    Without a doubt, the one responsible for the group should be a Holy Spirit called leader fulfilling the role of an elder or pastor – even though such a group may be a part of a larger local church with a full time senior pastor or pastors/elders. I have heard reports of situations where the senior pastor met with the neighbourhood elders on a weekly basis with them forming their own small group. This helps the senior pastor better keep a “finger on the pulse” of the larger church which he pastors. It also provides for a more consistent mentoring or discipling of the church as a whole compared to a church where there may be little interaction between the church elders outside of church business-type interaction.

    We see this pattern established with the leadership and governing of the children of Israel under the leadership of Moses in Exodus18. Here, we see Moses following the wise advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, to divide the estimated 2 – 3 million people into thousands with a leader over each thousand. Each thousand was further divided into hundreds – each with their own leader. The hundred were divided into two groups of fifty with a leader over them. The fifties were divided into groups of 10 with a leader over them. This enabled Moses to effectively lead and disseminate God’s word to such a large group of people.

    Another important factor which a true Church of Christ and born-again believers must be in tune with is this: Only that which is birthed by the Holy Spirit has any real and eternal value. Every small group, every Church, every work of God, must be birthed by the Holy Spirit. It is easy, in some aspects, to imitate the works of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to start a small group or program of any kind, which may look like it is valuable work for the Kingdom of God, but which may be nothing more than the misdirected efforts of a fleshly ego (no matter how altruistic).

    I remember one small church I pastored where the congregation urged me to help them start a mid-week children’s program. We set up and ran the denominational program which was similar to Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, complete with uniforms, achievement badges, etc. After four years, the leaders were frustrated. We couldn’t grow beyond about 12-15 kids, and there were other problems which seemed to make the program awkward. Together with the leadership, I decided to shut down the program for a year while we sought the Lord for His direction. During that time I conferred personally with the leaders, the parents and the kids to get their input. At the end of a year, we felt we should custom design our own Bible Club program on a different day at a different time and with custom designed activities and Bible teaching which suited our community. The first year we had about 35 kids. By the third year I had to advertize a limit of 75 kids because that was all our facilities could safely accommodate. Additional leaders came out of the woodwork without any prospecting. I recently got a report (almost 20 years later) of one of the former kids who wasn’t from our church who went into the ministry and testified that he was saved in that program.

    What was the difference between the two programs? One was a man-created program. The other was Holy Spirit born and directed, customized to our situation and community. God knew what was needed and best. We just had to seek Him for it and then follow His direction. I believe the same principle holds true for any endeavour of God’s people – including small groups.

    Finally, I’m always leery of one church trying to imitate what works well in another church. It seems the tendency of the western church to disseminate the workings of the church and God’s Kingdom via business and scientific means. We seem to want to reduce aspects of the church into formulas which one can teach at conferences, write books about, and earn a living at. It seems the author’s references are regarding this type of small group.

    However, God and His kingdom are not like that. He and His workings cannot be reduced to duplicatable formulas. God is infinite. His ways and workings are infinite and beyond what we can comprehend. I believe that just as God has created us as unique individuals, so the various Bodies or parts of His Body which He creates are unique. They are in unique communities and neighbourhoods. The individuals comprising them are in turn unique.

    When this principle is applied to small groups within a larger church, it should be expected that each small group will have its own unique characteristics. For example one may focus on worship, another on evangelism, another on prayer, etc. Together, as different parts of a physical body work together for the whole, so the individual groups work together for the whole under the headship of Jesus Christ.

    I thank Brian Jones for writing this author and the Christian Standard for allowing such a forum where we can learn from each other.

    God bless.

  48. Shawn Wade
    February 18, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Great article. have been in several small groups and was worth the time reading it, going to stay neutral keep my maybe 50% attendance at the group I go to

  49. Banks Corl
    May 9, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Our experience has been completely different from yours.

  50. Patrick
    June 11, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I think small group functioning depends on the churches ability to train their small groups into something useful, not a way to eliminate the need for the church to provide proper Discipleship and training. There should always be a serious form of discipleship training occurring in the church along with small groups. I think that church leadership wants a one bullet approach to training than requires minimal staff and financial resources. It can be a lazy approach to the Discipleship training equation. Let get serious church leader and do the hard work of true training and Discipleship.

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