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Survey: The Powers and Pitfalls of Small Group Models

Small Group Models

Help, I’m confused! The 21st century church is confronted with a plethora of different small group models. Some of the most popular models at the moment fundamentally contradict each other.

Very few pastors and church leaders have the time to understand and compare the divergent small group models. They typically have the time to read one or two small group books and possibly attend a small group conference. Most books and conferences, however, present only one model—yet they do it in a very convincing way. When you are listening to or reading Andy Stanley, Randy Frazee or Cesar Castellanos, they all sound like they have come up with the model. But their models have few similarities to one another. They ask different questions and give very different answers.

How can you tell which of the small group models best fit your church, leadership style and community? What are the key biblical principles and practical insights that you need to create a growing small group system? How can you learn from others experience and still be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and your own unique situation?

The purpose of this article is to give you a quick overview of the key models and then articulate the pivotal questions that you need to answer to shape a model that works for you.

Small Group Models

The contemporary small group movement began in a most unlikely way. It was a warm summer evening in 1964 in Seoul, Korea. A young senior pastor named Yonggi Cho was translating for a guest speaker at his growing church. In the middle of the service, Cho collapsed on stage. His associate, American missionary John Hurston, rushed to his side, only to hear him whisper, “John, I’m dying” (Cho, p.11).

Thank God, Cho did not die. But his health was broken. His doctors recommended that he find another line of work that was less stressful and demanding. Cho did not feel God’s release from ministry, however. And he still wanted to pastor his church until it became the largest church in all of Korea. From his sick bed, he cried out to God for healing. As he sought God over a period of months, several profound messages came to him. He was told by God that he would be healed, but that his healing would take 10 years. Perplexed at how he could pastor a large, growing church—at that time the church numbered 2,400 people—he searched the Bible and was struck by how Moses divided the millions that he cared for into groups of 100’s, 50’s and 10’s (Exodus 18:13-26). He also noticed how the young church in the book of Acts was able to enfold thousands of new converts by using home group meetings (Acts 2:46). Cho also sensed God saying, “I am destroying your ministry and giving it to others.”