Every pastor wants his congregation to grow spiritually. However, no matter how great of a preacher you are, a 30-minute sermon isn’t enough on its own to foster the type of spiritual growth needed. That’s where group discipleship becomes essential.
Groups, whether they take the form of Sunday school classes, home Bible studies, or discipleship classes, greatly contribute to the spiritual transformation and growth of Christians. The Scriptures teach us that biblical community is essential to the life of the believer and to the body of Christ. Research and observation reveal several areas of influence groups have on the lives of believers and the church. Here are six significant benefits of healthy groups:
Bible engagement. Healthy groups study the Word. Lifeway Research found that people who attend groups spend significantly more time reading and studying the Bible than those not in a group. So what are your groups studying? We found in our Transformational Groups research, that nearly two-thirds of group resources are chosen by the group leaders, many of whom have no input from pastors or staff. And while pastors and staff shouldn’t be curriculum dictators, they should at least be informed and provide input. Church members who dwell in the Word overflow with the fruit of the Spirit. Biblical literacy is critical to healthy church members and, as a result, healthy churches.
Evangelistic accountability. Healthy groups look for opportunities to both show and tell the gospel to both those in and outside the group. When we are dwelling in the Word and it is dwelling in us, we can’t help but tell others the good news of Christ. If a group has true accountability, then evangelistic accountability will be inherent in that group.
Increased retention. In previous research, we found that people who attend groups were five times more likely to stay connected to the church than those who only attend the worship service. People typically stay in a church because of the relationships they develop with others. And these relational connections take place best in groups. The second reason people stay in a church is involvement. A group member is involved, not merely a spectator. Also, people engaged in ministry are more likely to stay in a church. Ministry often takes place in groups. For all of those reasons, retention is extremely high when a person is in a group as opposed to only attending worship services.
Enhanced discipleship. An hour-long worship service once a week is not sufficient time to disciple people. That’s not to say discipleship doesn’t take place in corporate worship or one-on-one with another believer. It does, but a group setting is needed, too. In a group, people are not only receiving biblical content, they also are experiencing biblical influence, which is an important part of discipleship. To see people grow in discipleship, they must be a part of a worship service, belong to a group, and be involved in ministry. Unless all three are happening, discipleship growth will be limited.
Better stewardship. According to Lifeway Research, giving is higher among those in groups than those who only attend worship services. Why? Because people give to things in which they are involved and believe in their purpose. Groups engender both of these.
Multiplied ministry. Ministry to others becomes natural in the context of groups, rather than an assignment within the church. Group members tend to shepherd one another because they’ve come to know and love one another. So when a group member experiences a crisis, the rest of the group steps in to care for and minister to that person.
Churches with healthy, transformational groups will experience each of these benefits and so much more. I believe an intentional and committed groups strategy can be transformational for your church and community.
Thom Rainer (@thomrainer) is the president of Lifeway and author of the new book Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive and the best selling I Am a Church Member.