Small Groups are an important tool for fostering discipleship in our Church. Small groups take our large parish communities and create a family like atmosphere, where parishioners can be known and cared for. Small groups are built upon the idea of incarnational evangelization (1 Thes. 2:8), that when we share the Gospel, it’s also important to share life with one another. Studies have found that parishes that have disciple-making focused small groups, those churches are more successful in evangelization - they are growing and healthy!
Research from the book Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World by Dr. Bob McNabb analyzes why some churches are more effective at evangelizing than others. After digging through survey data they found that there are key characteristics of churches that were successful in evangelizing. One of those essential characteristics?
Evangelizing churches tend to have small groups that function as disciple making teams.
We know from experience that simply providing programs for people to better know the faith has not resulted in growing our churches - even if they seem like the perfect solution to the challenges we are facing.
The power of small groups is that it takes the same content that might be taught and helps people learn it while developing deep relationships with those in their group. They don’t just learn the material - they also learn (by observation and shared life) what it looks like practically in day to day life.
So, how do you get started with small groups at your parish?
Prayer is the most important part of leading a small group. If you’re not committed to prayer, you should not be leading a group! . Take time to pray for each member of the group that you have invited, that they might accept the invitation and be open to how God wants to work in their lives through the small group. Pray for your session and the participants before your group arrives and after they leave.
Make sure your participants know what they are getting into. Define how often your group will meet (weekly, bi-weekly, etc…) and for how long each session. Make sure to start and end on time. If the group is consistently starting late or running long, participants are less likely to return. Honor their time by being consistent.
It’s important to go into your small group prepared. Take time to review the material you will be leading ahead of time so you are not surprised by it. Sometimes it is helpful to anticipate where the conversation might go (while still being open to the Holy Spirit). You don’t have to have the answers to every question that might come up, but knowing in advance where the conversation is headed can help. Again, prayer is an essential part of preparation for small group.
St. Benedict says that “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).” We should treat our participants the same way! We know that if people are comfortable, they are more likely to share. If possible, have a family like atmosphere for your group. Provide snacks, comfortable seating, and a causal atmosphere as people arrive. The beginning of your session can be spent catching up and getting to know each other while you wait for other members.
One of the big impacts of a small group is that relationships are formed that go beyond just the formal time that the group meets. By getting to know those in our community and walking with them through the highs and lows of life we are living the Gospel together. We are modeling what we seek to learn and teach others.
Need help launching small groups?
Give us a call at 314-792-7083 or email [email protected] for more resources!