The verdict is in. People don’t attend Sunday School classes or small groups for the content. They attend to meet people. They don't attend for the presentation either. They attend for the relational connection.
I’ve been active in small groups for the last eleven years. Counting Sunday School participation before that, it has been twenty five years. I’m a firm believer in small groups of any kind (classes, ministry teams, informal, etc). If I didn’t believe in them and enjoy them, then I would not be active in them.
But there’s another side to small groups not talked about too often. I dislike the hypocrites who sit in judgment of anyone who outside of “their” group. I dislike the groups who end up getting a sense of pride and arrogance because they feel like they are more spiritually in tune with God than the rest of the church is….. and then they begin to question the leadership and direction of the church. These kinds of small groups become little pockets of divisive, controlling people.
I also dislike the forced intimacy and fake connections. Churches want to foster friendships, community, and spiritual growth in their congregations. This is a good thing. But you cannot MANUFACTURE community and fellowship. Churches are good at this; we find something that works organically and then package it as a new program and compel people to become involved.
I love the friendships, camaraderie, and beneath-the-surface fellowship that take place when I’m doing life with a few close friends in any kind of small group context. I am not afraid of being open and transparent with others. What I DON’T like is when someone tries to force me into a relationship through some institutionalized program of the church. This is uncomfortable and unfair. My best relationships (friendships, etc) have been those that were birthed spontaneously, organically, and on their own.
Small pockets of community within the larger congregation are important to have. But we will not FORCE it. We must simply ALLOW it to take place in a natural way. I want friendships and spiritual growth to happen organically, not organizationally.
Part of my job as a pastor is to help create as warm an environment as possible in our church family that helps people to get to know one another in a better way. As we do that, there is a better likelihood that friendships will develop in our congregation that will last a lifetime. In turn, they will take care of each other and be there for one another throughout every season of life. It is not the job of the senior staff to make everyone like each other…. but it IS our responsibility to encourage our people to care for one another and build friendships within the body of Christ.... and to do so in their own time and in their own way.
I guess that makes me an environmentalist… Not the tree-hugging kind, but someone who helps create the kind of environment where friendships and Biblical community naturally occur.