Pastor: Small Groups Aim at Caring for Believers, Not Just Splitting from Church

A small group of Christians pray together.
A small group of Christians pray together. (photo:
By Phoebe SunDecember 8th, 2023

Recently, nurturing believers through small groups in house churches has become a common practice. However, regarding the shift from traditional church services to small group gatherings, what is the purpose of these small groups? Recently, a pastor in central China shared his reflections on this in practical terms.

Some small groups don’t run well

Rev. Jiayao (pseudonym) pointed out that many so-called "small group" gatherings in churches nowadays are simply the division of previous churches into different smaller meeting points. Essentially, this is just a way of breaking down the larger church into smaller fragments. The pastoral care that these small groups offer compared to the previous one that the majority of churches used in the past hasn't changed significantly since splitting into smaller units. The difference lies only in the reduced number of attendees on Sundays. Previously, there might have been hundreds of people gathering on Sundays, but now there are eight or ten people listening to sermons.  

The pastor pointed out that this is not truly what small groups are meant to be. He mentioned that in such cases, the number of church members might gradually decrease. He observed that in some cases where churches have broken down into small groups, "even many churches have dispersed and ceased to exist." There are also instances where they just gather a few people online and claim to be conducting small groups without any people meeting in person.

The purpose of small groups should be to focus on the precise pastoral care of believers.

Regarding the purpose of conducting small groups, Jiayao believed that the focus should be on the transformation of how pastors nurture believers. Previously, during church services, pastors found it challenging to provide detailed and caring pastoral support to believers. Most of the time, the relationship between pastors and believers was limited to the pastor delivering a sermon on Sundays, with little interaction at other times.

He believed that when pastors are conducting pastoral care through church services, it is easier to attract seekers. Even if the church did not provide precise pastoral care to believers, the situation might be that "some leave and others join." However, after transitioning to small groups, the disadvantage is that small groups are not so effective in welcoming seekers into the church. Therefore, small groups present a greater challenge to pastors in terms of providing detailed pastoral care to believers.

Both pastors and believers need to invest time and effort into learning to build a healthy small group.

Jiayao believed that churches need to invest time and effort into learning when attempting to conduct small groups. In the churches he knows of, "very few conduct small groups according to the learned curriculum." He pointed out that even those who attend the training are reluctant to "pay the price" when it comes to building a small group ministry.

This pastor shared that in the past, churches might have conducted seeker classes to nurture catechumen in groups, but now this approach is not feasible. Seekers now need to be placed within small groups, grow alongside others, and be influenced by positive examples. This places higher demands on the involvement of small group members. For instance, "if you bring a friend, then the responsibility of nurturing that person in the small group falls on you, while others assist and support you."

In Jiayao's church small groups, there is a segment resembling a "question and answer" session at the end of Sunday worship services to assess the depth of believers' understanding of the sermon. Additionally, there is a daily spiritual check-in during the week, apart from the Sunday services. This places certain demands on believers' spiritual lives.

The pastor pointed out that sometimes when churches set expectations for believers, a situation arises where believers find meeting these expectations "troublesome" and decide "not to go to church anymore." Therefore, small groups should present genuine challenges to believers in their sincere faith. These spiritual benchmarks are crucial for Christians, as well as pastors.

- Translated by Abigail Wu

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