Many of my most frequently asked questions probably find their origin in the phrase “church of groups.” Actually in a personal interpretation of the phrase “church of groups.”
You know how you can go about your life thinking that you know what a word or a phrase means and find out years later that you’ve been using the word or phrase incorrectly the whole time? For example, I have a friend that says, “that’s a mute point.” She means “moot” but has never quite caught that distinction. I have another friend who uses the word “antidote” to mean both “the substance you take to counteract a form of poison” and “a short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person (which is the definition of the word anecdote).”
Does it make a difference to use the word or phrase correctly? Yes. Maybe it’s not always a big deal. But it makes a difference.
What about understanding the difference between a church of groups and a church with groups? I think it makes a big difference.
First, a little history. The phrase comes from Building a Church of Small Groups, an important book by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, and essentially differentiates between the kind of church that has small groups as one of several menu items (that would be a church with groups) and the kind of church that does everything in the form of a group (that would be a church of groups).
In the introduction to Building a Church of Small Groups, Donahue and Robinson tell the story of “a bold declaration in 1992 to become a church where no one stands alone” and the effort to “intentionalize the practice of community to ensure that life-giving transformation was taking place.” The end result was that in the decade between 1992 and 2001, Willow Creek moved from a church with small groups–that is, small groups being one of their programs–to being a church of small groups. ”Instead of ten to fifteen percent of the congregation connected into a small group, we have become a place where over 18,000 individuals are connected in 2,700 small groups (p. 14).”
With me so far? Church with and church of. I think that is clear to most. Don’t miss the motivation, though. To become a church where no one stands alone. That vision and an intentionalized strategy and effort is what produced the church of groups.
Here are a two ways that churches get caught in the trap of moving from church with to church of:
- They begin calling everything a group (i.e., on-campus Sunday school classes, Financial Peace, and the women’s Beth Moore Bible study are all given new identities as “groups”) even if they sit in rows, the communication is one-way, and they miss most of the essential ingredients of life-change.
- They become satisfied with connecting a percentage of their congregation in groups but remain a church where many stand alone. See also What Percentage of Your Adults Are Actually Connected, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting People?
By the way, if you send someone to get the antidote for a rattlesnake bite and they come back with an amusing story from City Slickers about the guy who backed into a cactus and thought he’d been bitten on the behind by a rattlesnake, it will make a difference.