Connecting Worship and Small Groups
By Scott Hughes
Getting people to attend worship regularly seems enough of a challenge for pastors and church staffs. Inviting over-committed people to participate additionally in a small group seems like asking for blood from a turnip (I’ve never understood this expression) or, worse, a guilt-inducing plea.
As a father of two teenage boys who are involved in several activities, I can identify with those whose calendars are crammed. Life feels overstuffed and fractured, going from work to sporting events and/or concerts, to eating a quick meal, then getting some sleep before doing it all over again the next day. While many might acknowledge that attending a small group is a good idea, it can also feel like one more thing to fit into an over-scheduled life.
While many might acknowledge that attending a small group is a good idea, it can also feel like one more thing to fit into an over-scheduled life.
If I were able to offer the precise words of invitation or the perfect curriculum to help churches increase participation in small groups, most would rightly receive it as snake oil. Yet, small groups have been a proven discipleship strategy within our Wesleyan DNA. Many churches are constantly looking to improve their small-group ministry.
One method of small-group ministry, while not a cure-all, that can help small-group participants at least feel less fractured is for churches to intentionally connect worship with small groups. Though not difficult to do, connecting these often-disjointed experiences does require intentionality and planning. An experience many pastors have had is a parishioner greeting them following a sermon to enthusiastically declare the correlation between what she studied in the Sunday school lesson or small-group curriculum and the sermon. However, some (if not many) who attend a Sunday school class or small group experience worship and the small group has having little to no relationship. Making clear the interdependence between worship and a Sunday school class or small group can give participants a more unified experience of discipleship formation.
Additionally, participants can more readily appreciate the unique contribution each experience makes in conforming them into the image of Jesus Christ. When linked, worship and small groups have a reciprocal relationship. Worship is the primary arena where the gathered community encounters God’s presence, hears the good news, and is sent to join God in mission in the world. Yet, even when worship is well planned and “God shows up,” those one to two hours of worship per week are not enough to counteract the strong cultural shaping and misshaping people encounter throughout the week. Small-group participation, then, is a micro-community from the gathered worshiping community that again encounters God’s presence, wrestles with God’s calling, is held accountable to living God’s calling in daily life, and makes the community more fit to worship the God it encounters in weekly, corporate worship.
Worship is the primary arena where the gathered community encounters Gods presence, hears the good news, and is sent to join God in mission in the world.
If we are willing to build on this natural link between worship and small groups, the question is, “How do we make that happen?” Will this require pastors and church staffs to write their own curriculum? Perhaps so. It doesn’t have to be complex. A few well-worded questions based on the Scripture passage and the sermon can guide a good conversation so that people are able to reflect further on God’s word and God’s call. The following are some sample questions to spark conversation:
- “What is still unclear to you from the Scripture or sermon?”
- “Where do you hear God calling you from the Scripture and sermon?”
- “Where is God calling us as a community based on the Scripture and sermon?”
An additional resource, soon to be offered by Discipleship Ministries, will also serve churches looking to make this connection for their small groups. Starting in August, with the worship resources “…In Love,” for each worship resource series, there will be small-group and intergenerational resources. These resources are designed to help small groups carry forward the themes and Scriptures encountered in worship. These resources are intended to be easily reproduced and facilitated. The aim is to help participants to reflect more personally on the themes introduced in worship. The hope is that participants will connect the formative experience of worship to their small-group time. Even more so, the resources are designed to connect the God encountered in worship to people’s daily living as disciples of Jesus Christ. Perhaps making this connection more overt will help churches in their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world as well as to help participants become witnesses to a more holistic method of discipleship.