Small groups may be called by different names, but they should all have the same goal. So whether they’re known as Sunday School classes, small group Bible studies or something else, the goal of a groups ministry in the local church is to make growing disciples of Jesus Christ.
“There has been an era in group life when creating Christian community was more important than people becoming mature disciples,” says Rick Howerton, small group and discipleship specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources. “We need to make disciples, not just help people make friends.”
BSC photo by Chad Austin
“We need to make disciples, not just help people make friends,” says Rick Howerton, small group and discipleship specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources.
Howerton recently spent the day with pastors and church leaders from across North Carolina for a hands-on workshop titled “Small Groups and Sunday School: Side-by-Side.” The event was sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and held March 26 at First Baptist Church in Garner.
Throughout the day, Howerton led attendees through a series of interactive discussions and activities that helped them evaluate their ministry situation and think through whether having Sunday School, small groups or a combination of both would be correct in the context of their church.
Plus, he sought to dispel some of the prevailing myths about Sunday School and small groups.
“Some people think that starting small groups will kill Sunday School,” Howerton said. “It will not kill Sunday School. It will enhance Sunday School.”
In fact, Howerton said he doesn’t think of Sunday School and small groups as being separate entities. Instead, he views them collectively as groups, which operate under the same umbrella.
“Sunday School classes and small groups are the same thing,” Howerton said, adding that healthy groups can promote growth and life change in their members whether they meet at church on Sunday or in homes during the week.
BSC photo by Chad Austin
Breaking into smaller groups allowed the participants in a recent Sunday School/small group training event to discuss their respective church ministries.
For those considering adding new groups or transitioning to a new groups model, Howerton offered some practical and helpful counsel to church leaders. He encouraged them to be prayerful and patient when embarking on change. Cast a compelling vision and work to gain the blessing and support of church leadership.
When working to build consensus within the congregation, Howerton suggested calling any new approach to groups an experiment, instead of a new ministry.
Several attendees said they were encouraged to hear that Sunday School and small groups don’t have to be either-or propositions, and that groups share a common purpose of reaching others and making disciples.
“It was helpful to hear that Sunday School and small groups can coexist,” said Mike Williams, pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Burlington. “You don’t have to change something that’s working, but there are other approaches that can help you reach new people.
“The format or the method doesn’t matter as long as it’s biblical and as long as it’s making disciples of the Lord Jesus.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chad Austin is the communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)