Think about two powerful rivers merging to form one seemingly unstoppable force and you have a good image for the confluence of two accelerating trendlines. Call river #1 the rise of the nones (those who claim no religious affiliation) and call river #2, the decreasing frequency church attendance among churched Americans. See also, How Will This Trend Affect Small Group Ministries?
Takeaway: We are not in Kansas anymore.
5 Important Implications
These combination of these two powerful trends have many implications for small group ministry in the 21st Century. I've identified a few of the more immediate here. I'm sure there are others.
1. Promoting connecting opportunities over multiple weekends is now required.
As the frequency of attendance decreases it becomes less and less effective to promote something once and expect that unconnected people will hear about it. See also, 5 Keys to Building a Small Group Ministry at the Corner of "Belonging" and "Becoming".
2. Stories and examples of authentic community must be included in everything (sermons, on the website, in enewsletters and printed materials).
An aspect of the trend of less frequent church attendance is that online participation is growing. It's easier and more convenient. In many cases I can watch the service when I want to (the DVR has made time-shifting expected). The experience is similar whether I'm in the auditorium or sitting on the couch at home. If we believe there is value in connecting and that life-on-life is an essential ingredient of life-change, we need to work harder to ensure the value is communicated well. See also, Essential Ingredients of Life-Change.
3. Emphasizing a more organic form of connection that organizes around naturally occurring relationships becomes a primary path, as opposed to plan b.
While in the past, it may have been most effective to offer on-campus connecting events designed to launch groups of 10 to 12, it will become increasingly more productive to make it easy to start a group with friends. Making it easy to "do the study with a couple friends" is a powerful antidote to busy schedules and infrequent attendance. See also, Saddleback Changes the Church-Wide Campaign Game...Again.
4. Emphasizing personal relationship (with neighbors, co-workers, and family connections) becomes the highest priority.
It is the best way to overcome barriers in post-Christian America. The research in The Rise of the Nones as well as UnChristian indicates that an increasing number of Americans no longer view attending church as something that is helpful. This is a key takeaway in Gabe Lyons' The Next Christians (another must read). See also, The Next Christians: A Book You Should Be Reading.
5. Studies and resources that require less familiarity with the Bible become more essential every day.
If prior knowledge is required in order to understand what you are studying (i.e., who are the Ephesians, is this the same Joseph that was married to Mary, etc.), it will be a nearly insurmountable barrier to participation. See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System.
What do you think? Have one to add? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.