By Aaron Earls
Through the pandemic, most churches figured out a way to continue worship services. Unfortunately, many have not done so for their groups ministry.
While 85% of churchgoers say their church offered livestreamed worship services since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, far fewer (52%) say their church had online Bible studies for adults, according to a February 2021 Lifeway Research study.
In January 2021, 76% of churches met in person for worship services, but only 36% said their small groups did the same. Another 25% were meeting online or by phone, but 33% were not gathering at all, and 6% no longer existed.In January 2021, 76% of churches met in person for worship services, but only 36% said their small groups did the same, according to Lifeway Research. Click To Tweet
If you make it a priority, the people in your church will recognize it as such. Lifeway Research found that churches that communicated the importance of being part of a group saw small group participation in January 2021 at levels close to what the average church saw before the pandemic.
It may seem like a convenient time to scale back groups in your church, but the people in your congregation need to be connected with and involved in a small group.
These five reasons are only the beginning of the importance groups play to the life of a believer.
1. More time with Scripture
In study after study, research finds engagement with Scripture to be one of the primary indicators of spiritual health. In other words, those who spend time with God’s Word become more like Him.
Small groups provide an avenue for Christians to read, study, and discuss the Bible on a regular basis. This continued engagement creates healthier followers of Christ.Research finds engagement with Scripture to be one of the primary indicators of spiritual health. In other words, those who spend time with God’s Word become more like Him. Click To Tweet
Churches that continued to invest in and encourage groups during the pandemic will emerge from this season with members who’ve grown spiritually as individuals, as groups, and as a congregation.
2. Face-to-face examples
Living a consistent Christian life amid a culture frequently opposed to those values can be difficult. It is virtually impossible when trying to do so alone. We need to hear from and be with people who are also walking this journey.
In a 2019 Lifeway Research study, 65% of churchgoers said they could walk with God without other believers. Yet, in the same study, 75% said they need other believers to help them grow in their walk with God.We cannot walk with God without other believers. — @WardrobeDoor Click To Tweet
American churchgoers struggle with the concept of interdependency within the body of Christ. Yet Paul uses that imagery of the body and its various parts to illustrate how Christians cannot function alone (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
We cannot walk with God without other believers. How are we to obey more than 50 “one another” commands of Scripture if we remain separated? Groups provide a way for Christians to live out those instructions and to see others doing so as well.
3. Burden bearing
As groups gather and encourage each other face-to-face, they also have the opportunity to share difficulties and help each other through those times. Those have often been missing since the start of COVID.
During the pandemic, 41% of churchgoers said they checked in on others in the church and only 38% said people in their church checked on them, according to Lifeway Research. Only around 2 in 5 churchgoers took it upon themselves to see how others in their congregation were doing.Only around 2 in 5 churchgoers took it upon themselves to see how others in their congregation were doing during the pandemic. Click To Tweet
COVID brought physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strain on virtually everyone. We faced the sickness and even death of loved ones. But too few churchgoers had someone else from church to walk alongside them in those hard moments.
Groups intersect the lives of individuals and allows them to go deeper than casual “Hellos” tossed out on the way to our seat in the worship service. Gathering on a regular basis to talk about God’s Word and how it applies to us equips us to be there for one another during hard times.
Not only do groups provide encouragement during difficult seasons, but they can also provide correction and support during those moments when we need it. According to Lifeway Research, 78% of churchgoers say they have developed significant relationships with people at their church.
Yet, according to the same study, less than half of churchgoers (48%) say they intentionally spend time with other believers to help them grow in their faith, with only 19% agreeing strongly. So, 4 in 5 churchgoers admit they can improve in allowing their church relationships to aid their own spiritual growth and the growth of others.4 in 5 churchgoers admit they can improve in allowing their church relationships to aid their own spiritual growth and the growth of others. Click To Tweet
The Holy Spirit works through sermons and individual Bible reading to help convict us of sins and call us to holiness. He also works through conversations with friends and joint study of God’s Word. As group members share their struggles, others can walk alongside them “in order to provoke love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
5. Drop-out prevention
In Lifeway Research’s study of young adults, many factors predict whether a churchgoing teenager will drop out. One contributing issue is group involvement. Both those who attended a small group or Sunday school class and those who attended an in-depth Bible study discipleship class are less likely to stop attending church as a young adult than those who did not attend such a class or group.
What is true of young adults is undoubtedly true of other adults—involvement in a group contributes to attaching a person deeply into a congregation. Having members involved in groups makes it less likely they will simply drift away from your church or never return post-COVID.What is true of young adults is undoubtedly true of other adults—involvement in a group contributes to attaching a person deeply into a congregation and helps prevent drop-outs. Click To Tweet
Prior to the pandemic, only 15% of churchgoers said they had considered switching to another church in their area and 76% felt their church has been extremely or very helpful in their spiritual growth, according to Lifeway Research. In that same study, churchgoers were asked ways in which their church could improve the discipleship help they provided—the six most common responses are either about groups or are concerning things groups directly address.
If your church is concerned about members engaging with Scripture, growing spiritually, sharing burdens, challenging each other in Christ, and remaining connected to your congregation, groups ministry needs to be a priority for your church.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.