Why Small Groups as a Program is an Utter Failure

If you hang around the American church very long, you’ll hear this term: small group, grow group, e-group, something about groups. We’ve been taught by the current generation of innovators that small group, or if you prefer cell, is the cure for what ails the American church.

The problem is, the small group as a program is an utter failure. I know through experience because I have thrown a lot of staff members, years of work, launches, failures, and re-launches into small groups as a program only to have them turn out to be a failure, and the staff men and women who led them feel defeated.

The bottom line is this: not everything in the spiritual life can be programmed. We can’t write a book for it, create a seminar, and then expect people to jump into them and be successful.

One of the problems of small groups as a program is that it throws people together who may have a common belief system, but who are radically different in personalities, interests, or even values. There’s no guarantee that just because I love God, love Jesus, and love the world, that I’m going to click with whomever shows up and signs up for a six-week course.

And even if we do click, that creates its own problem. Because once people bond socially, they usually don’t abandon those bonds voluntarily in order to go make new ones.

Maybe small groups are far more organic than that. And maybe the core value of that small group is not just to be together, but to do something. Small groups that exist to study a book for a short period of time have value, but they’re not the answer to the real problem. We’ll talk about that later.

Here’s my question. Do you have small groups as a program in your church? If they are wonderfully successful, we’d love to know who you are and where you are.

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