In our upcoming book we devote a whole chapter to small groups, because that’s how important we think they are to parish life. And we acknowledge that they are a very hard sell in a Catholic setting (maybe they’re a hard sell in other settings too, I’ve never tried to sell them anywhere else). So a few words on why we invest a lot of effort and energy (and preaching time) to promoting small groups. Why small groups?
Small groups are our delivery system for member care.
Groups are the place where our great big church gets small, up-close and personal. There is simply no way we have, or could ever have, a staff that could provide one-on-one support for a congregation of our size (4,000 in attendance this past weekend). And I don’t want my staff to even try anyway. Staff shouldn’t be trying to care for the members, the staff should be equipping the members to care for one another. Most people I know in our parish are happy to help others when they can, but they have no plan or system to it do, so they can’t. They need a system. Small groups are the system where our parishioners can support one another, and find support.
Small groups are about life-change.
The basic exercise we’re involved in at Nativity is not about comfortably staying where we’re at and pretending to be perfect Christians, it is about life change. Things like growing in goodness and character. Our formation as individuals and as Christians is far from complete. Small groups promote life-change at a fundamental level that rarely happens in the weekend congregation and probably will not happen elsewhere. The power of the group comes from friendships that form solid relationships in which conversations lead to conversion. God made us to learn and grow together in groups.
Small groups are about discipleship.
Small groups are about life change, but the biggest change we’re looking for, the central change we’re aiming at, and the only reason this church is even here, is to grow disciples, or students of Jesus Christ. Small groups are our schools for discipleship. It is not Bible study, or adult education, it is not talk therapy or prayer groups (all worthy projects in their own way, just not what we’re talking about). In our Nativity small groups members take the Word of God, which we reflect on together in the weekend homily, and talk about it with their peers, apply it to their lives as Christ-followers and are held accountable for that application.
The Christian faith is meant to be held in a personal way, but not a private one. Without Christ-centered friendships our walk of faith will most certainly be a slower, less steady one, at best. When we have friendships in which Christ is central, we connect with him in a way we will not only on our own.