If you’re a small groups pastor and you’ve read Monday and Tuesday’s blogs, you’re beginning to ask yourself some important questions about group life, group relationships, and group size.
This is Day 3 of my interview with Daniel Im, the Community Life Team Lead at Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Daniel is an out of the box thinker, able and willing to revisit what group life looks like in order to reach the culture in which God has placed him. Monday I asked him to respond to this question, ““What were you trying to accomplish in your small groups that was not being achieved and why do you think the smallness of group life was keeping you from accomplishing that?” Yesterday he replied to a very important question as he began to consider moving from small groups to mid-size communities, “When you met with your leadership team, especially your senior pastor to consider the move from small groups to mid-size groups, what questions arose (and/or what conversation took place) that drove your church to move to mid-size groups?”
Today’s question… “What aspects of group life did you think you would lose by moving from small groups to mid-size groups that you found remained in tact?”
There is a wide spectrum of how churches are currently doing mid-size communities of 20-50 people. On the one side of the spectrum, the mid-size community is like a mid-week church gathering with worship, teaching, and prayer - it's just lay led, rather than staff led. On the other side, the mid-size community functions as the church - sort of like a house church model, with a monthly celebration where all the mid-size communities come together for corporate worship. There is also another spectrum that runs parallel to the above spectrum, let's call it the missional engagement spectrum. On the one side, there are mid-size communities with a shared mission. On the other side, there are mid-size communities of missionaries.
I don't know if it's because I'm Canadian and I love to keep peace, but after all of my research on mid-size communities, I wanted to see if there was a model that embraced both/and. What would it look like if we created a model that drew from the strengths of small groups and the strengths of medium sized gatherings? Using questions like this one, I developed a different model where mid-size communities would meet every other week, and smaller groups of individuals would meet in the off weeks.
The beauty of my model is that it still leaves room for the important dynamic of the small group environment. It does not minimize the importance of small groups, it rather embraces its strengths. Since small groups are a personal space for people to connect and support one another in more vulnerable and intimate ways, they are a great environment for bible study, spiritual growth, accountability, and depth in relationship. Those are all values that are hard to keep intact when you only have the mid-size community gathering environment. Since the best small groups are ones that form organically and naturally, and since relational chemistry is of the utmost importance for a great small group, the mid-size community provides the ideal environment for people to discover who they best connect with. After all, for most churches above 200 people, it becomes increasingly difficult for newcomers to quickly connect and engage in enough conversation and relationship to figure out who they would like to journey deeper with. To force them into an existing small group too quickly could be detrimental for both the newcomer and the small group, as many of us might already know.
On the flip side, within group life, I found that there were three major areas that work better when a mid-size community embraces the both/and model - drawing from the strengths of small groups and the strengths of medium sized gatherings.
1. There is a higher rate of assimilation
- More individuals can be quickly integrated into a mid-size community.
- Newcomers will not feel obligated to keep coming, nor are they the center of attention.
- It’s easy to step into a mid-size community environment, since the environment is conducive to this. After all, it is large enough that you won't be the center of attention when you are new, but it is also small enough that you are bound to find others you connect with.
- It’s great to meet a lot of new people.
- In small groups, multiplication is an incredibly hard and painful thing, whereas in mid-size communities, multiplication doesn’t feel like radical surgery since there are so many more people. You can go with those you most connect with.
- In mid-size communities there is less ambiguity
in who goes where because multiplication happens with the focus of mission.
- The mid-size community lead team is an incredible environment for discipleship. Indepth discipleship happens here where it’s a co-discipling environment.
- All mid-size community leaders receive training and ongoing coaching and support from staff.
- Through a mid-size community, a disciple grows in knowledge (discussion nights and off-week small groups) as well as puts his/her faith to action, since every mid-size community has a mission focus.
- Individuals can form smaller groups with those they most connect with, which results in a greater level of trust and life transformation.
- Above all else, through a mid-size community, individuals discover that all of life is discipleship, rather than it just being a weekend thing.
What are your thoughts on the both/and model?