Small group ministries are a normal part of church life in many churches today. Whether churches choose to call the ministry small groups, life groups, or community groups, the ministry is designed to get members and guests connected to the life of the church. The draw, especially in larger churches, is to make big churches feel small. North Point Ministries in Atlanta created their small groups because they felt “circles were better than rows” (i.e. Small groups impacted spiritual development more significantly than weekly services).
Last year, I worked at a larger Black church in the Chicago area. I wanted to help develop a small group ministry in the church. As the leadership thought through small groups in the African American context, I made an alarming discovery.
I read an excerpt from an interview referenced in a Christianity Today article. The interview asked a ministry team of a multi-ethnic church in Chicago about contextualized small groups. In it, the pastor of community life pointed out that “small groups aren’t as important to other ethnicities as they are to white people.” The church pastor agreed, saying, “White people rely on small groups to connect. Other ethnicities form community more organically…non-whites aren’t as eager to set up structures and systems like small groups.” Wait, what? Is it true? Are black people small group adverse? I felt like my research project doomed from the start. Then I remembered something.
Small Groups Before Small Groups
I grew up in a small baptist church in Georgia. Every Sunday morning, my stepfather would drive me and four groggy siblings to Sunday school at our church. The Sunday school met an hour before services started. It taught small classes of students ranging from pre-school to adult attendees. We sang the Sunday school anthem, “Onward Christian Soldier”, learned biblical narratives key to God’s redemptive story, and had graduation ceremonies akin to moving through the public school system. It was a rite of passage. [Read more…] about Can Small Groups Work in the Black Church?