LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–The key to church health is that a church must grow larger and smaller at the same time, said Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of “The Purpose-Driven Church” during SuperConference 2003.
“Larger through worship and smaller through small groups,” the California pastor said during the Oct. 5-8 gathering of 13,000 people at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Warren cited a 750,000-member South Korean church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in which each member is in a group of only 10.
The small groups allow the church body to minister to the needs of everyone in the congregation, Warren said.
In the case of Yoido Full Gospel Church, when one member of a small group is sick, everyone in his small group brings him an apple. This simple custom helps create a spirit of support, in which each person is known intimately and is carried by the group through difficult times. It keeps members from falling through the cracks.
Lance Witt, Saddleback’s discipleship pastor, said a critical element to the success of small groups involves the affinity of the members. “Something must cause them [the group members] to say, ‘We want to meet with them’ [other group members],” Witt said, adding that having things in common naturally draws people toward each other, helping build satisfying relationships.
Churches should stress the many benefits of being in a small group, said Witt, including the feeling of being part if church family, gaining a better understanding of God’s Word and maintaining accountability for one’s Christian walk.
“Where in church can people be totally real?” Witt asked, noting that it is in the small group setting where members can share their struggles and their hurts in a way not possible across the larger congregation. They’re able to feel at ease with their difficulties, he said, because of the care within their small group.
“Small groups offer the greatest pastoral care ever,” Witt said.
Dave Holden, pastor of Lake Gregory Community Church in Crestline, Calif., testified that “40 Days of Purpose,” a campaign that takes an entire church through Warren’s latest book, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” ignited an explosion of small groups within his congregation.
“When we announced the start of our ’40 Day Small Groups’ — the place went crazy,” Holden said. “I’d never been able to get more than seven groups going all at the same time, but we immediately [grew] to 55 groups, topping off at 72!”
Before long, there was no space left in the existing groups, but then members of the congregation began launching their own smalls groups. One new member told the church staff, “I was going to join a group, but I think that I can start one on my own. I used to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, and I’m not afraid to go out and get all of my neighbors.” Holden said the man talked to everyone on his block and successfully launched his own group.
“Our attendance climbed each week to a new level: 588 – 615 – 680 – 710 – 762 – 803,” said Holden, noting that the numbers peaked at 850. “People were getting saved every week and the word-of-mouth excitement throughout our small-town community was positively contagious.”
With 72 small groups meeting during “40 Days of Purpose,” more than 100 people accepted Christ, Holden said. “We baptized 30 last December, which was good for us,” the pastor said. “However, during the next three months we baptized another 64! Our attendance has stayed at about 800 a week, and our small groups have leveled out at 58 but still growing!
“The 40 Days of Purpose changed everything for us,” Holden said. “We will never be the same.”
Andrew Martin is a student journalist at Liberty University; Jon Walker is director of content at Pastors.com.