Resources for Relaunching with Small Groups
By Scott Hughes
Many churches are looking to start or build on their small-group ministry during this current phase of reopening. During the recently held webinar, “Navigating 2 Viruses,” Rev. Samuel Yun, lead pastor of Embrace United Methodist Church, in Oakland, California, observed, “Our big thing is no longer worship, but small groups.” Professor Michael Hawn, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music, stated firmly that “the center of ministry is not the building. The center of ministry is the people.” This trend toward focusing on small groups at this time seems both pragmatic due to safety concerns and consistent with our Wesleyan DNA. The Methodist movement expanded through class meetings and band meetings, where early Methodists could learn the ways of Christ, be nurtured as disciples, and be held in account for growing in grace.
One of the resources to help start and grow small-group ministry that many participants have found helpful and effective is the free, online e-Learning course, How to Start Small Groups. Our main text for this course is the booklet, How to Start Small Groups: Growing Larger by Acting Smaller, which is a free PDF on the Discipleship Ministries’ store. (A Spanish version is available.)
A number of supporting resources for the How to Start Small Groups course participants are particularly beneficial. One common response to these supplemental resources is that they highlight the Wesleyan model of small groups and discipleship formation and reveal how far the church has drifted from the ideal.
The course emphasizes that unless small groups occur within a culture of discipleship or are part of an intentional discipleship system, they are unlikely to thrive. One way to foster a culture of discipleship is to ground discipleship in the baptismal promises. (See Small Groups Help the Church Live Out the Baptismal Covenant.) A number of course participants have noted that the article, the Shape of Discipleship has given them more clarity in articulating what discipleship is and how small groups promote growth in discipleship.
Another strategy to grow small groups mentioned in the e-course is to connect small groups and worship. This strategy takes the burden off small groups of worrying about curricula or what to study. Making an intentional link between worship and small-group conversations helps disciples integrate the themes and experiences of worship with their everyday discipleship. For each Sunday, Discipleship Ministries produces worship resources as well as faith-formation resources for children, youth, and adults.
Course participants have said that the concept of Grace Groups is also helpful. This vision for small groups is deeply Wesleyan and can help church leaders evaluate the aim of their current small groups and what groups they might need to create.
While not covering every aspect church leaders might need to help promote small groups (also check out our resources on teacher development. “Teachers as Spiritual Leaders and Theologians” and “Making the Most of Online Small Groups), we hope these and other Discipleship Ministries’ resources will be valuable tools during this time as we continue the task of growing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Scott Hughes is the Executive Director of Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship, Elder in the North Georgia Conference, M.Div. Asbury Theological Seminary, D. Min. Southern Methodist University, co-host of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, creator of the Courageous Conversations project, and facilitator of the How to Start Small Groups teaching series.