We have four growth groups at St Luke’s and it has only just dawned on me why they have struggled to grow much beyond the original members of our congregation. We are trying to do small groups in a big city way in a settled community. We started in 2006 with two groups led by the clergy and meeting in their houses. We now have four growth groups, one multiplied from the other two and one started from scratch.
In university towns or where the population is made up of young professionals and people are transient or at least trying to settle a small group is a good place to meet people and make friends quickly. Not so in a settled community. Many people in Blakenhall whom I come into contact with meet with their extended family and a select number of friends they have known since they grew up together. Social lives are settled, people don’t often meet in each other’s homes socially, but pop in for a chat and socialise at the pub or club. Our invitations to people to join our existing small groups meet with resistance because of the disruption this would cause to routine, social networks and meeting in a stranger’s house is just a plain weird idea.
Our direction of invitation must be reversed. We should ask, “may I come with a friend and join you in your home to learn about Christ and how to live for him together with your family and friends?” I have seen the potential for this in a number of situations where people have come to faith and have friends who are interested in Christ. We need to plant groups without trying to take people out of existing settled social circles. Instead, we should add a group leader and one or two members to such circles.
To make this work, some leaders must be “planters” who move from home to home as opportunities arise as in Acts 5:42, “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” So group planters must not be hosts, which is the mistake we’ve made by hosting at clergy houses.