You may have already picked up on the fact that I believe what got us here won’t get us there.

And you may have already asked the question, “If something is biblical, won’t it work every time and all the time no matter when it is or where you are?”

That is a good question, but it misses the point.

Something can be biblical (a belief or a practice) and still require a cultural expression that enables a different culture to understand. Think about the difference in the way Paul explained his faith in Acts 17 and Peter did in Acts 2.

And like Paul’s nimble gospel adaptation to the culture he discovered on Mars Hill you may need to think about your small group ministry in light of the difference between 20th and 21st century realities. It could be that the main reasons you’re ministry is stuck have to do with the difference a different culture makes.

Think about your small group ministry in light of the rapid changes our culture has undergone in the last 20 years. See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.

Here are 5 reasons your 20th century design isn’t working:

First, the expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing.

This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.

Why is it important to understand this? What does this have to do with any difference between 20th and 21st century ministry designs? Especially small group ministry design?

Isn’t it like this? The invitation to join a group, the challenge to leave the anonymity and safety of the crowd, must be made with the understanding that the benefits may not be understood or believed.

What might be the antidote? Story and particularly the personal story of someone I know. If you’re not incorporating personal story, you have little chance of succeeding in the 21st century.

See also, Video that Recruits Hosts.

Second, biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting.

This reality must be anticipated in the development of the group experience, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in leader training. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.

Every biblical reference or allusion is obscure to almost everyone.  As messages and small group curriculum is developed, it must be understood that most of the people in the auditorium and most of the people in the living room have never heard the story we are telling.  When we reference biblical concepts like communion or Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, we must never forget that what we take for granted is a complete mystery to many of the people in the room.

See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #4: A Myopic Understanding of the Culture.

Third, a Christian worldview is not held by the majority.

Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.

How is this impacting your ministry? Again, think about the curriculum you are using. Think about your leader development and training. Think about the way you are promoting group involvement.

Fourth, cause (not community) has the greatest potential to connect.

As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s).

What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.

If your connection strategy is primarily centered around the need to belong (and discounts the desire to have an impact), you’re leaving on the table a major theme of the 21st century.

Finally, leader training, development and encouragement must be offered on a “need-to-know” basis and distributed on a “just-in-time” basis.

Gone are the days of advance training in preparation for an assignment.  Now arriving are the days of leader training that takes advantage of 24/7 delivery made possible by the internet, and streaming content.

Further, leader development and encouragement will be decentralized.  Churches everywhere are discovering that the pace of life is making centralized gatherings more difficult to demand and less productive to implement.  Far easier to instill and more productive are decentralized gatherings at the local coffee shop or for that matter, in the living room or kitchen.

See also, 7 Decisions that Predetermine Small Group Ministry Impact.

Further Reading:

5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group Ministry.

What do you think?  Have one to add?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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