I’d invite you to try something. Attend Willowcreek Church in Chicago–one of the nations largest, fastest growing, and influential churches in America. Also, a strong home-cell church. Attend one of their Saturday night services. Grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria afterwards. Look around the room. You will find a number of small groups meeting at the church building at a time adjacent to the weekend service. Their home groups (some of them) are meeting at church. Why are they doing this?
Because, for some, they have found it is more convenient. They are already at the church. Since the whole group is already out of the house at the same time, and at the same place, why not go ahead and meet, since they have to meet some time and they are already in the same space?
Also, by meeting on Saturday night (or Sunday morning) they solve another perennial problem with home groups: what to do with the kids? By meeting at the church on Saturday night, they solve this problem, regardless of the age of the kids. If this is a group of couples in their thirties, they may have kids from preschoolers to teenagers, and–this is incredible–there is something for all of them.
What a concept! Everyone meets at the same time in the same building with teaching for all ages of kids and adults at a time adjacent to the weekend service when we are all here anyway. Look at the advantages:
- We don’t have to get out another night
- The weekend has fewer conflicts than other week nights–no conflicts with soccer, etc.
- We are all here anyway.
- There is something for all of our kids.
What a great concept! Just don’t tell them that it sounds a whole lot like Sunday School, because that sounds awfully old fashioned.
Don’t hear this as a criticism of Willowcreek or of the home cell concept. I am a big advocate of the word AND.
We can have home groups and Sunday School style groups. We can do both. What a concept.
A group is a group is a group. Whether that group meets in the church building on the weekend or during the week in a home, a group is a group is a group. Home groups have certain advantages, and Sunday School style groups have certain advantages. Both have their disadvantages. God can use both. Every church would benefit from both.
Some of the benefits of home groups include:
- The home atmosphere is warmer.
- You never run out of space–there are always more homes to use.
- It is more economical for the church.
- There is the luxury of a more open-ended time format. You don’t have to end precisely at a certain time. If the conversation is really interesting, you can go on and on and on. (Some people see this as a disadvantage.)
Some of the downsides of home groups include:
- You have to get out another night.
- Figuring out what to do with the kids. Beyond what to do with the kids, many of us would like our kids taught about God and we have a haunting fear we are not doing quite enough as parents. We would like for the church to help.
- For the host, there is some considerable work in getting prepared.
The benefits of a Sunday School type group include:
- We are at the church anyway.
- There is quality teaching for all ages of children and adults.
- We don’t have to give up another night of the week.
- The atmosphere is not as warm as a home. (Could this be addressed? Could we get nicer chairs and put pictures on the wall?)
- We will run out of Sunday School class rooms if we grow rapidly. It is expensive to build.
- The downsides to Sunday School include:
This last reason is one compelling reason I think it is a good idea for every church to experiment with a BOTH/AND strategy. If you have Sunday School type groups and home groups, you can off-load some of your groups to homes during the week.
The problem with doing this underlines one of the benefits of Sunday School type groups. The problem with doing both is that people will tend to prefer the Sunday School type groups. You will have to work at talking people into moving to homes and away from the Sunday School environment. In pure home-group churches, they don’t have this problem. They don’t offer the preferable option of Sunday School style groups so everyone has to meet in homes.
Keep your eye on the ball here: the ball is doubling groups. Don’t get distracted by the question of home groups or Sunday School style groups. Both. Or, one or the other. No matter. The key thing is to joyfully embrace the vision of growing and dividing, growing and dividing, growing and dividing. Whether we do that in a home group or a Sunday School style group is not so important. That we embrace the vision of doubling groups is important.