Stop Having Small Groups [Time Out]

Time Out quiet times for the youth worker's soulTime Out: Weekly quiet times for the youth worker’s soul.
(by Adam Wormann)

Word on the street is that most pastors have a lot of relationships. Guys and Gals in youth work are constantly encouraged to connect relationally to students. Small groups were all the rage a few years back (and often still are), though now we like to talk all about community. Still, pretty much trying to communicate the same thing, just using different language. For all the focus on relationships, we still have quite a bit of lonely people. It looks like relationships are becoming the wrong thing.

Look at Acts chapter 2:42-47 (ESV)
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

People were connecting relationally. This has become a model for how we do ministry. Hey, it’s good, it works, it’s how the early church modeled it, it’s Scriptural…nothing wrong here. Until we (and I think I really mean “I”) get a hold of it. Then it becomes a program. It’s a mean to an end. We participate in, lead, and enable small groups. Yet, we never really connect. It’s probably because we view it more like “ministry” as in “accomplishing the church’s work” instead of “ministry” as in “sharing your life in the context of Gospel living.” To me, it’s become more apparent why so many pastors and church leaders are often so lonely.

Think about your small groups, your friendships…where you spend most of your time. Do you ever have time and people where you have mutual benefit and share life together, where it’s not a church program? Where we break bread in one another’s home, have all things in common, look out for one another, take care of one another, and truly connect? Or is it a “small group” that’s another tool?

Maybe what we need to do is just stop having a “small group meeting.” Give it up. Instead, just love one another and connect. No agenda, just to pursue relationships like Christ intended. Stop making things always about “ministry” in the professional/volunteer sense and more about feeding the souls of others and your own as you share life together.

Ask yourself:

Who are the people I’m really closest to? Do I have a friendship or ministry relationship with them?

What am I doing that allows me to authentically connect with other people?

Who do I need to connect with soon?

Adam Wormann is a Youth Pastor in Old Bridge, NJ where he’s been serving for the past 8 years. He is also one of the mentors at Life in Student Ministry and the editor of the “Time Out” series. You can stalk him on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted on July 19, 2010

  • Mike

    Incarnational ministry is much more effective than using relationships as outreach tools. Check out a book by Andrew Root called "Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry." He does a great job of pointing out our places in life and how we do incarnational ministry in those places.

  • Good post, Adam! We get so caught up in "doing ministry" that we forget it's more importnat to "be ministers."

  • The thing we so easily lose site of is the fact that if our relationships are only on the surface then so is our ministry. Relationships are meant to be deep and go the distance with a willingness to help guide someone through life – not just "know" them. I think one aspect of ministry we tend to leave out it nurture. Especially in the social media age. We want as many followers and friends as we can get where the majority of those are on the surface and it filters in to how we do ministry. I'm not saying social media should go or that we shouldn't use it – what I am saying is that if we're not careful we end up treating our ministry like social media.

  • I like the idea of avoiding small group meetings if the purpose is only to meet. If your small group programs are "working"–if people are gathering to genuinely love each other and to help each other grow–then by all means continue!

  • BLJ

    You can't seperate ministry and relationships, they go together, life is ministry, whether it is small groups or hanging out randomly with a friend, life is ministry. Small groups are what you make them, they can become another program, or they can become a group that is faithfully living out the mission of Christ, lets not put all small groups in the same boat.

    • I think you're saying the same thing Adam is saying. The truth of the matter is that it is unfortunately possible for small groups to become a program and both you and Adam are saying that it shouldn't be that way.

  • Good job Tim, pushing just the right buttons again. I am so frustrated with a group time after a talk. It has never worked the way I have heard it is supposed to and i also am pretty sure it has stunted growth instead of helping it. The teens want to be relational in everything they do. Especially with social media being so big, you can almost see them starving for someone to be personal with them. That does not happen in a group time after a discussion with a docket of questions that need to be answered. That happens best when you are sitting across from them with a coke in your hand, or in a house playing video games or even a movie. Those times will almost always turn into times of deep relationship when they truly see them as times that are meant for THEM not for our program.

    • Thanks, but this is from Adam Wormann, the guy who runs the Time Out series, not me. He's good a pushing buttons, too. :)

  • Oooops, sorry about that. Good job Adam!

  • gabe

    Looking at the context of that passage in Acts, the relationships were centered on doctrine. We seem to swing from on extreme of the pendulum to the other instead of maintaining balance. Doctrine is important! The main relationship is with Christ, then with others.

  • Whoa, didn't see that comments were coming in here, so I'm just chiming in now, maybe a few weeks later.

    Mike: I agree, if it's working as it needs to, keep them going. I've just learned to be cautious about ministry leaders and how they function in groups, especially because how I've handled it before.

    BLJ – Tim was right, I think I basically agree with you. When we "have" small groups, and treat them like a program, we're missing what they're designed to do. When we exist in small groups, or maybe a better word is "live" in them, or whatever, and truly connect with people, then we're hitting what we need to. I think the model in Acts 2 is very similar to a small group today that works. I think the danger is, as ministry leaders, we often treat them as programs and never really connect with people.

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