Sorry for my absence from this line of dialogue recently. I hope to get out the rest of my thoughts on this subject over the next two weeks - so bear with me!
I talked about the weekend worship service as the first priority in a church revitalization effort before, so now I want to move on to the second piece of the puzzle - adult small groups.
There is no doubt in my mind that the weekend provides the largest "funnel" for people to get introduced to the church, but if there is nothing that the church is offering past that first "funnel," then guests and visitors who are here to check out the church will quickly exit out the door they entered because there is nothing keeping them there.
That is where adult small groups come into play. These groups of 10-12 people should be designed around several different approaches to formation. However, each approach must be intentional in nature for them to succeed.
The first approach is affinity. Find people within the worshiping community that have similar interests - like camping or quilting or reading. Gather those people together under the direction of a trained small group leader and let them use their affinity to draw them into deeper relationships with one another and with Christ.
The second approach is location. Group people together who live within the same neighborhood or on the same side of town. Gather these folks together - again, under the leadership of a trained small group facilitator - and have them begin to live life deeply with one another.
A third approach involves service. I truly believe that an usher team can function as a small group if given appropriate directions. I also believe this can work with Sunday School teachers, money counters, and communion set-up folks. If an element of study and prayer is added to their weekly routine and responsibility, then any service group within the church can function as a small group without too much hassle.
A final approach involves study. I know that many Bible studies are touted to be "short-term" commitments, but even a study that only meets for 4-6 weeks can still function as a small group during that time. This is true because when a group of people make a decision to meet together, study a particular topic or biblical book, and pray for one another, you have the makings for a great small group experience. This even holds true for longer studies like Disciple Bible Study - which asks for a 9 month commitment. I believe that this also holds true for Sunday School classes because what should those long-term learning environments do for your soul, but grow it in the context of deep and meaningful relationships.
Using these approaches - and any other successful methods out there - can begin to turn the culture of the church from a church with small groups to a church of small groups. And that is the key to long-term sustainability. If the leadership of the church (and thus the rest of the congregation) sees small groups as "one more thing the church does" then the church will never truly reach its redemptive potential for the kingdom of God.
How can University UMC begin to implement adult small groups into the life of the church? Who is ready to champion the efforts to do so?