Small Groups Are Not The Answer


February 10, 2014 by Cody LeClaire

Everyone is doing it. It’s the latest thing. It’s the answer for this generation of Catholic ministry. Small groups! All I’m hearing at conferences is “you have to start small groups.” Campus ministries and many parishes around the country are buying in. It’s at the core of the EC’s methodology for evangelical ministry, but it’s not THE CORE of evangelization.

Don’t get me wrong: small groups have their place. I personally know many students who have experienced radical conversion of heart, mind and soul through attending small groups. Their faith stories/testimonies of Jesus’s love “becoming real” in their lives are powerful, a witness to trust more in our Lord and Savior.

Campus ministries grow exponentially when small groups launch, especially as more and more students invite their peers to meet Jesus in the scriptures. Here at NC State, where I work now, we had to find and train more small group leaders three weeks into the semester to serve the overwhelming number of small group sign-ups during our Masses and welcome events.

Ministries grow qualitatively, as well. Coming to know Him personally in a tight-knit community, each member is encouraged to dive deeper into discipleship.  It’s beautiful to see Hebrews 10:19-25 coming into fruition as these communities “hold unwaveringly to [their] confession that gives [them] hope” and “rouse one another to love and good works.”

But this is exactly where I see that small groups are NOT the answer.  I wish it were that easy to make disciples.  I wish I could simply instruct students to meet once a week, for an hour or more, to read the scriptures out of a study guide, or find good verses on their own.  I wish it were that easy to just ask good questions that would prompt good discussion about who Jesus is and what he wants to offer us.  It’s just not the reality.

Programs, small groups or any other, do not make disciples. People make disciples. Even though small groups create a beautiful time and place to encounter the living and breathing God-Man, it is not the “program” that shares love of Jesus.  For a group to work, Jesus must first abide in at least one member of that small group who will intentionally point the others back from the many distractions and intellectual tangents that arise to Him, the Alpha and Omega.

Every small group needs someone who knows where the living water can be found because they’ve encountered Jesus intimately.  Such people, especially in a small group session, focused on the scriptures that describe Jesus’ life and teachings, can’t help but share Him with others.

These true evangelists can simply and confidently point others “with gentleness and reverence…” toward Christ, “the Way”, because they walk “the Way” themselves. Having discovered new life in Christ, they choose every day to prioritize their prayer time with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a dialogue, not monologue). They seek the wisdom of “teaching, refutation, correction and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:15-17) found by “resting” with the scriptures; the “living and effective” Word of God (Heb 4). They experience the free gifts of healing, nourishment, and encouragement through the sacraments, and participate with these graces by striving for holiness/sanctification for themselves, their companions, and the entirety of the world they encounter.

People are the answer- not a small group, but specifically a PERSON: a person already being transformed by the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; a person committed to daily walking in Jesus’ footsteps.  This person is the one who can “go forth and make disciples” as the Lord commanded us.

This is what has always been necessary.  It’s what Jesus did and sent others to do.

We see it with the Woman at the Well going to share Jesus with everyone in the town and with Andrew going to find his brother Simon (soon to be Peter) and telling him about Jesus.  We see it with Philip and Nathaniel and countless stories throughout the scriptures and beyond! “Come and see for yourself!” must have been a common exhortation because people did, and in droves!

So now what?  Start being a disciple.  A true disciple makes other disciples.  If you are a follower of “something” and want to share that “something” with another person you are trying to get them to be more like you, or better yet, more like the one that you follow!

Follow more closely and help others to follow more closely.  And how do you do that?  Go to disciple school?!  Not quite but sort of.  Get in the Word.  Start with the Gospels and Acts and move from there into the New Testament and then the Psalms.  Don’t just read them. Study them.  Learn from them.  Devour them.  Become one with them.  Learn what it means to be a disciple and then practice that.  Don’t do it alone.  Get a group of people together and do it together. Hold each other accountable.  Draw more friends and acquaintances into this and then all of a sudden it is happening.

Commit yourself to being a man or woman of the Great Commission.  Pray this prayer with me: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, give me the heart to go and make disciples of all nations.  Show me the nations that You want me to go to and help me to see where You are leading me.  Teach me to look, first and foremost, at my family and my friends, then to my classmates, co-workers, and fellow churchgoers, and finally to those that I don’t know at all.  Teach me to baptize them with Your life, with Your word, and with what You have done in my life.  That this experience of Your life would lead them to receive that Baptism that is most fully in You, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach me to observe everything that you have commanded me to observe and help me to share this with others and teach others to observe these same things.  Help me to remember that You are with me always.  Let me show this with my life and proclaim it from my mouth.  Thank you, Jesus for all that You have given for me and for us.  Help me to always remember Your love for me and help others to remember as well.  Amen.”

Good. Now pray that everyday.

You can find the text of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-18.


5 thoughts on “Small Groups Are Not The Answer

  1. Roy Lanham says:

    Cody: Thank you for the words. A good reminder that EC is not a program. We here (Eastern Ill. Univ) have a tendency to rely on the small groups to carry the whole load. You are right: the small groups are amazing, but they are one piece to bringing folks to Christ. Blessings. Roy Lanham, campus minister.

  2. “specifically a person already being transformed by the power of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; a person committed to daily walking in Jesus’ footsteps.” Yes. Find these ‘ones’ and give them room to exercise the charisms they were given. If that’s best done within a program that’s great. If not, that’s fine as well.

    And don’t be afraid to ask yourself, and others, to stick your neck out. Chances are you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t get chopped off. I know that was true for me more than once.

  3. Your title is intriguing, but you are right. But what is the question?

    Small faith groups are not ends in themselves. SFGs are building blocks to unfold the renewal of faith-experiences that we all need. They are to become the tiny powerhouses of communities which in time become the bigger, dynamic Parish Community. Yet, even that — is not the answer.

    We look forward to become “a people of God”. . . here and now. . . and forever!

  4. Paul Vincent says:

    I agree with the main point and disagree with the author’s way of making the point. The article is a bit too negative sounding on small faith groups.
    I agree people make disciples, not programs. Small faith groups are precisely to provide a forum for PEOPLE to help make disciples. Cody says start with the WORD. Small faith groups are precisely to provide the forum to engage in the Word. Cody says that you need to be a follower of someone (Jesus) not something (SFGs)… Of course, but SFGs provide the forum for people to unite in faith to encounter the living Christ. The statement, “But this is exactly where I see that small groups are NOT the answer,” is to place up a straw man — no healthy leader or pastor of parish sees the SFGs are THE ANSWER. It is a means to the ANSWER which is Jesus Christ. The main point I like: it isn’t about the PROGRAM, it is about the PEOPLE, about THE WORD, about JESUS CHRIST, about authentic and intentional discipleship — but SFGs have been proven to be *an* (not THE) effective MEANS to accomplish part of this mission.

    Having said that, pastors, ministers, and leaders of small faith communities should most definitely keep at heart the main point of this article. Those whose FIRST measure of success is the number of people in the program are ones who need to take to heart the main point of this article. SFGs should be kept SIMPLE so that the main focus is the WORD, faith sharing, and the living Christ that becomes present within the united group.

    • Cody LeClaire says:

      I think you are right on with your response. Thank you for your honest feedback.

      Evangelical Catholic as an organization is all about establishing good small groups as a “setting” for evangelization. At times we work with ministers who view these small groups as the complete answer to their outreach struggles, but do not necessarily see the personal components of a small group that make this “setting” so ripe for evangelization.

      Also, I wanted to let you know that we have moved our WordPress blog over to our new website. Please take a look at it, and let us know if we can help you or those you know, be further inspired or trained for the work of evangelization and disciple-making.

      Peace in Christ!

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