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"That Counts!" Why Off Campus Small Groups Are Essential

We've talked about it for a few years now. Other churches and even missionaries have used the model to great success. The challenge is unlearning that which we have done for years to enable us to see things a little differently and step outside the four walls.

LifeGroupI'm a Sunday School guy. I always have been. My seminary training focused upon such things as "Flake's Formula" and the strategy for using Sunday morning Bible study groups to impact a community and grow a church. The only problem is that while I am convinced the strategy still can be effective, in many communities it is more and more difficult to grow a healthy, missional church with groups that only gather on Sunday morning.

About eight years ago we proposed the "Four Connections" for a healthy disciple. Our encouragement was to connect in four areas regularly, weekly if possible, within the local church.

  • First, in a corporate worship service.
  • Second, in a small group (i.e. Sunday School or other such study group)
  • Third, in an area of service within the church.
  • Fourth, in the local community somewhere.

We still believe in these four connections, but the difficulty has been in leading people to see the value of the small group gathering and then to see the validity of mulitple expressions of small groups.

This led to discussions regarding short-term groups that meet on Wednesday evenings (another pre-defined church gathering time) as well as other times throughout the week.

In each discussion, I found myself saying "That counts!"

It was a revelation to many, especially those who have grown up in a Sunday School-centric church.

Questions like "You mean, if I'm actively participating in small group that meets at a coffee house on Thursday evenings. . .that counts?"

Yes, it counts. Why wouldn't it?

Home study groups and groups that meet off campus are not necessarily as "easy" as those on the church campus, but the validity of a group that meets in a venue where many who would never go to a church building would go is incredible. We must not miss this.

Can you imagine if our church were to grasp the validity of such a concept? What if there were hundreds of groups, working through a storying of the Bible in homes and restaurants around our city? Do you think this would change anything in our community? Corporate worship gatherings would be incredible. Small groups would be more missional in structure (though not automatically) and I believe more people would become children of God and citizens in His kingdom through this process.

Oh, we're not shutting down Sunday School. It still works, but to believe that nothing must change in the coming years is short-sighted and weak. 

Some churches have stepped into this strategy and have found great results. However, there is a strategy at work. It's more than saying "Hey. . .go do a home group and figure out what to teach." There's a storying of the Bible that is done intentionally and strategically. The Gospel attracts people. God gets all the glory.

So, over the next few months we are going to begin working toward releasing God's church into the community with a strategic model and plan for Kingdom growth. People won't really have to "go to church." The church will be going to them.

Almost sounds like the Book of Acts, doesn't it.

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