1. Overview According to ACP data, in 2003 Ebenezer averaged 350 in worship and 327 in Sunday School. I came as pastor in November 2003. YTD 2011 we average 635 in worship and in Sunday Small Groups.
2. Victories The transition to dual worships and small group hours in February of 2008 was a major victory that positioned us for continued growth. “Making Room for More” was embraced by people of all ages and of different time-invested. This was a more than a schedule change – it truly represented renewed vision and a refreshed attitude.
Another major step for us was moving away from the concept of an annual vote on Sunday School teachers. We view teaching and leadership as callings and giftings and therefore encourage tenure of time to build relationships and effectiveness. Our teachers/leaders are assumed in place until they or us determine the Lord to be leading otherwise.
3. Failures For us, grouping and grading by age did not result in an effective small group environment. We simply encourage people to find their place by finding the people they best connect with. Some classes are larger (30 or so people each week in attendance) and some are smaller (8 or even less in attendance). Some groups have a very wide age range while others tend to stay closer in age. We empower each leader/teacher and group to discover their unique DNA and then embrace and exploit it.
We also allow, expect, freedom of material in our adult small groups. That is, we were limited when we tried to get everyone in the same curriculum since teachers and participants have different styles/personalities.
4. Learnings There is not a one size fits all approach to effective life-changing small groups. The key is not the schedule or the material or even the philosophy but rather the key is having the right leaders who have vision, passion, responsibility, and freedom.
5. Takeaways Regardless of demographic trends, the church can grow when the Gospel is the goal. People want authentic, engaging relationships that can best be discovered through small groups.