Small groups are the building blocks of small churches

Our church is typical of many established, small town churches.  Three years ago, our congregation was made up mostly of older adults.  Of course, older adults are the backbone of many congregations.  They provide a higher-than-average amount of financial support, they attend with above-average faithfulness, and they love their church.

Our senior adults are wonderful, and they realized that for our church’s future we needed to reach out to younger adults and young families.  But the mass mailings we had tried did not produce new visitors.  To add to our difficulty, the region in which we live has been in an economic downturn for several years.  Few jobs exist for younger adults, and few young families were moving to our area.

But three years ago we started a younger adult Sunday School class with about 5 younger adults.  I’m using the term “younger” because age is a relative thing.  We needed to reach folks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, but we weren’t going to do that all at once.  We believed that if we started lowering the age-range, we would eventually reach young families with young children.

Yesterday at our church-wide covered-dish lunch, 12 children were running around the fellowship hall while the adults finished eating and talking.  Six of the 12 were preschoolers; 5 are elementary schoolers; and, 1 is a middle schooler. These are our class members’ children.  As the sound of giggles and laughter bounced around the room, all of us were glad to see children playing around us, again.

Our class also had a record attendance yesterday with 19 present. A couple of our class members were out, so the number could have been higher.  These younger adults have already begun taking leadership positions.  One was elected a deacon last year, another takes a turn once a month leading our children’s time during worship, and 6 of the class members are leading our new Family Ministry Team.

Three years ago we started with five.  Now there are over 20.  Our class with their children now account for 20-30% of our attendance each week.

Starting a new class or small group isn’t glamorous, and it’s not a new idea.  But, starting a new class is a strategy that works.  I remember years ago Lyle Schaller, author and church consultant, saying “new people need new groups.”  If you want to attract new people to your church, start a new class, be patient, practice hospitality, and watch as the group grows and matures.  Small groups are still the building blocks of small churches.

8 thoughts on “Small groups are the building blocks of small churches”

  1. Chuck: You are right on. My 2d church was in the same condition when I went there. We started a class for younger adults–anyone below 40-50. As in your case it began small but over time led to growth. We eventually were able to start a true young adult class for folks in their 20s. So many people think they have to have some new program, but so many times all they need to do is simply improve on something they already have–in this case Sunday school.

    Terry Reed

    1. Terry,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds exactly like ours, and with the same result. We’re not quite to the 20-somethings yet, but I think we might actually get there. Thanks for stopping by. -Chuck

  2. I have been reading your blog for a while now and never commented. Just wanted to say how refreshing your blog is, full of great ideas, info & encouragement. To hear someone talking honestly about a small church and all the ups and downs is refreshing and very real. Thanks so much. Your blog is a great example of having a kingdom mindset. Keep up the awesome work 🙂

  3. Chuck,
    We started a revitalization process in a church very similar to what you are describing in your blog. The start was back a little over 3 years ago. Small groups were on the 4 top things that were the concentration. I know I have gone to churches where all the bible studies and book clubs were held at times where the working generations could not attend. Matter of fact, one of the things I was looking for in a new church when I moved was small groups at times I could attend.

    I feel having groups that related to the needs of today and having members invite friends to come is a great way to increase membership. It’s easier for someone “unchurched” to attend a great book club then show up for a service.

    I believe there is more of a demand and need to have small groups centered for youth as well. This would also give opportunities for youth to bring friends. Very nice article and I would like to share your article on my blog, churchwebsiteblog. I’m in the process of researching revitalization, which brought me here. Thank you!

  4. Question: .Where did you get the first five? Were they already members of your congregation, or people you invited groom the community, visitors?

    1. Jerry, the first five who attended regularly were a couple in our church, our church ministry assistant, and my wife and I. We didn’t have enough folks to recruit others. But slowly the group grew into an attendance of 8, then 11, then 14, and so on. The age range is wide, but the mix of personalities is good and makes for interesting discussion. Thanks for asking, but we just kind of stumbled into the process.

  5. Nadine, you raise an important issue with the times of events at church. In communities where there are those who work Sundays, or nights, or any schedule other than the typical “9-to-5,” churches need to be sensitive to those needs. Thanks for bringing this point to our attention.

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