WHY ARE SMALL GROUPS so prevalent in contemporary America that almost half the adults in the country are involved in some sort of group? More specifically, why are they often seen as the basic unit of church community and a popular option for Christian formation ministries? They are so widespread that sociologist Robert Wuthnow is able to confidently pronounce that the small-group movement is “effecting a quiet revolution in American society.”4 Similarly Jeffrey Arnold proposes that the small-group movement is a catalyst for a “quiet revolution that has slowly built from the ground up into a crescendo that is more and more difficult to ignore. It has influenced every church’s ministry in one way or another, and affected many people’s lives.”5

Clearly, the indications are that small groups are a powerful and significant force in the North American church. And the impact of small groups is not limited to North America. There is an explosion of house church and small group ministries that is altering the structure and impact of the Church worldwide. Why has the dramatic growth of small groups in recent decades been so pronounced? What benefits do they hold for church ministries and strategies for spiritual formation of believers? A careful scrutiny of biblical passages as well as a review of contemporary sources offers the following reasons as to why small groups are beneficial to churches and their spiritual formation ministries:

  • they provide for individuals a sense of community;
  • they assist people in their quest for spirituality;
  • they are an ideal point of entry into the church;
  • they provide a safe environment for learning;
  • they are an ideal way to study and apply Scripture and church doctrine;
  • they are an effective way of mobilizing the laity to ministry.

Harley T. Atkinson, The Power of Small Groups in Christian Formation (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2018).