How to set up a church of small groups

Friday, January 23, 2015

“There is an art and a science to successful small groups,” says Dr. David Sherbino, Tyndale Seminary Professor of Spirituality and Pastoral Ministry. For small groups to work, the church needs people working very hard behind-the-scenes. “It takes a lot of work and effort,” he explains, “it is not enough to say ‘We believe that small groups are important’—you need to live out that dynamic.”

Dr. Sherbino, who taught a class about small groups during the first week of January, draws an important distinction between churches with small groups and what he calls churches of small groups. The former is a church that is highly programmed, where small groups are simply one of many programs offered. The church of small groups, on the other hand, is a church where the small group philosophy is at the centre, at the core of their life together as a community of faith. In these churches, small groups are places for building community and meaningful relationships.

This is a difficult point to get to, Dr. Sherbino points out, since the churches of North America are heavily programmed. He cites author and pastor Eugene Peterson who, in his book Working the Angles, stated that we have programmed our churches to be in competition with one another; whichever church offers the most programs is the one that gets ahead. 

Dr. Sherbino wants this idea to shift, so that churches ask “How do we build relationships and invite people in?” rather than “How can we get more numbers?”
How can this change take place? Dr. Sherbino lists three essential elements to bring about change in the church:

  1. Dissatisfaction — Before change can happen in the church, there needs to be dissatisfaction with the way things presently are. Find out if there is a level of dissatisfaction saying “We’re not building people up,” “We’re not building real community” or “We’re not helping people to engage with one another.”
  2. Insight — The church needs somebody who knows how to bring about the change. This person knows how this change will look and is prepared to move ahead.
  3. Energy — Energy in the church is essential in making the change happen. Without energy, the movement will fall flat.

Dr. Sherbino sees a huge shift coming. People are no longer satisfied with megachurches and big productions. Today’s society lacks relationships and face-to-face encounters and these are exactly what people are yearning for.


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