Successful churches have discovered that small groups serve as an ideal point of entry into the church for the previously unchurched or dechurched. Groups are particularly well suited to draw into the church those who are on the outside of a church or on the periphery. While primary points of entry into the church in the past have been, at different times, the Sunday evening service, Sunday school, or the morning worship service, people today seem to be entering the church through mid-week activities. Leith Anderson says people born after 1950 are much more likely to enter a new church through something other than the Sunday morning worship service—perhaps a church-sponsored Bible-study class, a sports team, a divorce recovery workshop, or a young adult group.43 Aubrey Malphurs observes, “Small group ministries are beginning to replace the large-group worship-preaching session as the primary way younger people assimilate into today’s churches.”44
Wade Clark Roof observes that members of the baby boomer generation are often attracted to large churches because of the diversity of programs and the variety of ministries they offer. Much of the attraction, he proposes, has to do with the range of small groups, dealing with everything from Bible study and prayer, to eating disorders, family life, singles’ activities, exercise, and weight lifting.45 People who have reservations or fears of entering a church sanctuary may be willing to join a small group in a home or participate in a lay-led support group. The small group, often serving as a kind of “half way house,” provides a nonthreatening opportunity to become part of the church.
From the perspective of evangelism, small groups provide a soft-sell approach to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers or the unchurched. The most effective witness, suggests Richard Peace, often springs from the community of believers. Significant sharing of the Christian faith often occurs when a small group of Christians and non-Christians gather together to discuss issues related to Christianity.46 The power of community in impacting unbelievers was clearly evidenced in the initial stages of the church. As the early believers met together in homes and temple courts for teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, sharing of goods, and meeting everyone’s needs, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). The first fruit of rapid church growth was indeed a testimony to the compelling power of Holy Spirit invigorated koinonia.
Harley T. Atkinson, The Power of Small Groups in Christian Formation (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2018).