FAQ: Are you a church "of" small groups or a church "with" small groups?
It’s the dreaded question. Seriously, how many of us duck for cover when we are asked that question? We all think we want to be a church of small groups, but the numbers don't ever come close to backing it up. Can we exist somewhere beyond that distinction?
The question stems from a very important place; it is fundamental to the role that small groups play in the larger vision of the church. Do we view our church as a collection of many smaller groups? Or is the church offering the small groups as one of many opportunities for identifying with the life of the church.
When people ask me this question about NCC, "are you a church of small groups or a church with small groups?" I say, “yes.”
We hear this distinction a lot- a church of small groups versus a church with small groups. Pastors are encouraged to consider which camp their church falls into. Do we have groups as just one of many ministries? Or is the entire ministry of the church revolving around the small groups? Are small groups simply an arm of the church or are they the sole focus church?
I completely understand and appreciate the distinction. In one sense, it’s an important question. Knowing whether your church is "of" or "with" helps the pastor immensely in determining budgeting priorities, deciding what gets premier announcement time on Sunday mornings, and navigating tricky scheduling conflicts, among a myriad of other things. In many ways, being a church "of" small groups can really simplify your entire ministry.
Identifying your goal of being a church of or with small groups also affects some pretty big decisions about how you structure groups, train leaders, and decide curriculum.
Categories can be good because they can help us think through our motives and goals. But categories can also be limiting.
Let me get back to NCC for a second. Here are some of my goals. My ultimate goal is to see every NCCer growing in community and growing more and more like Christ. A related goal is that over 100% of NCC’s average attendance would be plugged into NCC small groups. Why more than 100%? Because we have some small groups organized for the primary purpose of building relationships with those who are not yet following Christ, so we want our small group attendance to exceed Sunday morning attendance for evangelistic purposes.
Let me be clear-- my goal is not to have 100% of NCCers in an NCC small group. A hush falls over the crowd...and someone asks quietly, "Does Mark Batterson know about this?"
My goal is that people grow in community and grow closer to Christ. We do small groups because I honestly believe that is the best environment for facilitating that process. But our college students need to be in college-focused ministry small groups, like Chi Alpha or Intervarsity or Campus Crusade for Christ. Those at NCC struggling with relational and sexual brokenness need to be in Regeneration’s Living Waters Program.
So—when someone asks me if we are a church of small groups or a church with small groups, I say “yes.” We want everyone in community. And we want everyone to grow closer to Christ. We want everyone to be in a small group. But we don’t necessarily think that everyone should be in an NCC small group.
I think NCC has the best small groups of any church out there. But I also realize that NCC might not be big enough to offer the small group experience that everyone needs. So in one sense, yes, we are a church of small groups. But I think we are somewhere beyond that distinction.
Or I could be completely off my rocker...