In 2010, CCC&TSPM published teaching materials for churches nationwide, providing guidance for implementing a more refined pastoral work: developing small group ministries. H Church in a rural area of X City in Southeast China embraced this initiative and established a small group model tailored to their congregation's needs. They focused on discipleship training and evangelism, ultimately rescuing the church from decline and achieving significant growth.
As early as the 1930s, H Church had established meeting points under the guidance of missionaries, and in 2011, they inaugurated a new sanctuary with a seating capacity of 700. However, attendance at their services rarely exceeded 100 people. In 2011, Pastor T visited churches in the local area, nearby cities, and Hong Kong to gain insights and learn that "small groups need to be on a mission."
Initially, H Church established small groups by dividing all believers into ten groups, each consisting of regular attendees and their less frequent church-going family and friends. Through these small groups, they aimed to connect and nurture those who were less involved in church life. That year, the church's attendance grew to 150.
However, these small groups lost their vitality quickly the following year. Pastor T acknowledged that people were reluctant to participate in small group gatherings. Thus, in the second phase of small group development, H Church began to explore diverse types of small group activities.
Regarding the content of small group meetings, they experimented with three approaches: devotional gathering, worship-based gathering, and activity-based ministry. Pastor T mentioned that during this phase, the church's workers put in considerable effort, but from 2012 to 2016, the congregation only grew to 200 people.
The turning point came in 2017 when Pastor T went to serve in S City in Northeast China, where a local pastor stated that the number of believers in his church had grown from over 80 to over 1000 in seven years through conducting small groups. This inspired Pastor T to seek training. He committed to learning 12 lessons in three months and immediately booked over 20 round-trip flight tickets between the two cities.
Pastor T and his team adjusted this small group model to suit their church's context, creating their own small group curriculum and gradually building a small group system. As of this year, H Church has baptized over 400 seekers, with a congregation of up to 600 people. Even during the three years of the pandemic, the church baptized an average of over 80 converts every year.
The H Church's small group system consists of care groups, discipleship groups, and evangelism groups.
Care groups, also known as cell groups, aim to connect, nurture, care for, counsel, and assist church members. They do not focus on preaching, Bible study, or communion, as these functions are reserved for church services.
Pastor T said, “Care group leaders encourage members to enroll in specific discipleship courses based on their needs. Those who enroll are then divided into groups of around ten people, forming new discipleship groups. The course comprises six modules to be completed in three years, with one module completed every three months.”
Pastor T stated that after completing the discipleship courses, members could join the evangelism groups to serve, and that completing the leadership course allowed them to apply to become care group leaders. Individuals converted through evangelism groups were introduced to care groups to be cared for.
Pastor T emphasized, "This system has vitality and can operate independently. Every ministry within the system continues to expand. If a church only focuses on a single ministry, it will eventually plateau and cease to grow."
Within this discipleship system, the church can defend itself against heresy. Every believer has undergone discipleship courses, which enable them to have a good grasp of the truth and the ability to discern heresy.
H Church's small group system demonstrates the advantages of small groups in refining discipleship, strengthening the connection between believers and the church, equipping laypeople for God’s work, and promoting evangelism.
- Translated by Abigail Wu