While several studies, available across the internet today, (Including Barna, 2015) some tell us that over 70 million adults have been labeled as, “unchurched,” I find myself on the other side of that fence disagreeing with that assessment, but only in the strictest sense of the word, “church.” Although I know church attendees that are very active in small group bible studies, I also am acquainted with several believers that are not members of a particular church but still are members in small group bible studies.
According to Dr. Roger Walton, who was head of the Wesley Study Center (Durham, UK) for eleven years, “small groups play a significant part in contemporary church life,” (Walton, Disciples Together 2012). From Walton’s research into small groups, he concluded that they have been “increasing over the last thirty years on both sides of the Atlantic. Walton found that Helen Cameron, a research fellow at the Oxford Center Ecclesiology and Practical Theology, identified the “small-group church” as one of the new cultural forms of church apparent in contemporary society.
Ed Stetzer begins an article with, “Transformational discipleship involves moving people from sitting in rows, where they are simply in proximity to one another, to sitting in circles. From there, they move into community with one another,” (Stetzer, Lifeway).
It is becoming apparent that small group bible studies not only play an important role in the religious life of those who attend, but there is evidence that may suggest that group members in fact have a stronger, deeper faith experience, than those who simply attend church services on Sundays.
In 2014, Don James, Associate Director of North American Division Evangelistic Institute, asked the question; “Why small groups as a model for urban churches?” After teaching seminary students for over 20 years in the subject of small groups, he said, “I had to accept the fact that multiplying my ministry in other leaders was of more value than leading a local congregation.” James concluded his paper by stating, “I believe that small groups are one of the strongest ministries that can equip, disciple, and grow the church…” (James, D. 2014, Small Groups as a Model for Urban Churches).
There can be a bond found between believers in a small group that otherwise may not likely be found between regular Sunday worship goers. There is no denying that overall church attendance is not on the uptick. Thom Rainer says, “A breakdown of overall attendance percentages by church type shows decreases across the board in evangelical, mainline, and Catholic churches,” (Rainer, 2018).
In 2012, Mrs. J. F. was apparently hesitant to accept an invitation to join a bible study group, after moving to a new town, citing that she didn’t know much about the bible. She wrote to Billy Graham over her concern about joining this small bible study group and in his response to her said, “You may not know much about the bible, but others in the group probably don’t either, and a small group bible study can be an excellent place to learn,” (Graham, 2012).
Abigail Brewer, a student at Liberty University, authored a 2018 report on “The Spiritual Growth Resulting from Participation in a Small Group Bible Study. Although Brewer’s paper focused solely on one particular Bible Study, (“The Boatloads” Bible Study), it produced very good information pertaining to the benefits attained through the Small Group.
According to Brewer, “The Boatloads’ Bible Study “impacted the spiritual growth of its attendees.” She added, “ Factors including relevancy of material, clarity of communication, and a
welcoming community all contributed to the effectiveness of the “Boatloads” Bible study, but all participants noted a clear understanding of God’s power as depicted throughout the “boatload” of stories about boats in the Bible, (Brewer 2018).
“The community,” according to Brewer, was one of the top reasons she learned that people would take part in a bible study and recommend it as well. Some responses found in her study cited the “challenge” the group study brought them.
As I assemble all the information I’ve taken in so far, from the numerous studies and reports I’ve consulted, I find the majority, if not all, appear to omit a critical statistic, and that is the “actual correlation” between the “small group” and everyday life in the church. In other words, according to what I have learned thus far, the “small group bible study” has little impact on everyday life in the church and is, in a practical sense, an entity in and of itself.
Members of these groups appear to have closer and more substantial spiritually-connected relationships within their groups in contrast to merely sharing a pew on a Sunday morning or midweek evening.
These are small conclusions as my research is ongoing. The purpose of my research is to shed more clarity and light on the “Small Group Bible Study,” not merely as a “small group” but as a “small church,” more relatable to the concept of the church described throughout the bible.
I believe too many people are quick to underestimate the spiritual power of the small group bible study. While I am certainly always eager to hear a real Sunday morning sermon, I believe in the end that the evidence will show that much more “bible learning” is achieved within the small group as opposed to learning it in the regular everyday life of the church. As well, I believe that the “small Group Bible Study” or (house church), is a closer representation of the “early church” as described in the book of Acts; “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ,” (NASB Acts 5:42).
©2021 Clayton Moore. All Rights Reserved!
Originally written for Masters in Ministry, Ohio Christian University, May 24, 2021
Barna Research Group
Billy Graham, Canada, Answers (2012)
Brewer, A. “The “boatloads” Bible Study: A Report on the Spiritual Growth Resulting from Participation in a Small Group Bible Study” The Kabod (2018)
James, D. (2014) Small Groups as a Model for Urban Churches, Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1282&context=jams
Payne, J.D. (2008) A Glimpse into the Missional House Churches of America. Journal of the American Society for Church Growth. Vol 19, Iss. 1, pp. 87-98. Retrieved from
Rainer, Thom, 2018, Outreach Magazine, Church Leaders.com
Stetzer, E. Five Essential Elements of Transformational Small Groups (2015) Lifeway Research
Walton, R. (2011) Disciples Together: The Small Group as a Vehicle for Discipleship Formation pp. 99-214, Retrieved from http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.ocu.idm.oclc.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=17e25e34-1bc6-4a4b-ae14-b7c62d70b95e%40sessionmgr101