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A small group of young people at Vista Community Church in Temple, Texas.

Church small group participation continues to decline

Small groups are a good way for Christians to build relationships, especially in large churches and after worshipping virtually during the pandemic. However, the number of people who participate is declining.

Just 44 percent of churchgoers were engaged in a small group at their congregation in 2022, according to a poll by Lifeway Research. This represents a decline in the share of churchgoers who participated in small groups in 2010 (49 percent) and 2008 (50 percent). Johnny Blevins, senior pastor of The Elkin Valley Baptist Church in North Carolina, says that small groups are necessary for every church to function and thrive.

“As for their importance, I believe they are essential for connecting members and making the church truly a family,” he said. “I have found that small groups, whether traditional Sunday school or home-based, are the glue that keeps people involved and connected.”

John Reichart, associate pastor of The Experience Vineyard Church in Rockville Centre, N.Y., agreed that small groups are the fabric that keeps churches held together: “Small groups, led well, are the engine of character development, discipleship, mentorship and leadership development in a local church,” he said. “It is difficult to see how any church can flourish for the long haul without that structure.”

Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, writes “small groups and Sunday school classes provide the relational glue that allows a local congregation to be a place where people love one another. Groups and relationships that are centered on the word of God unify a congregation and motivate people to work together on the mission of the church. Churches with few people participating in groups are not in a healthy position to be making more disciples.”

In addition, more than nine in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors surveyed agreed that biblical scripture is the authority of their church and their lives, with 89 percent strongly agreeing, 2 percent disagreeing and 1 percent not sure.

Jonathan Hayashi, writing for Lifeway, listed the benefits of small groups, saying Jesus is the example, “Scripture shows Jesus spending the majority of his earthly ministry in community.”

Hayashi quotes Eugene Peterson who wrote in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, “1/10th of Jesus’s time was spent with the countless crowd. Therefore, Jesus restricted 9/10th of His time to twelve Jews of the community cell group.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice


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