Jonathan Carswell was seeking to provoke a bit of discussion with this tweet -and he succeeded.
So, what do you think? Are they overrated, ineffective and unaccountable? It’s worth noting at this stage that Jonathan is making a relative comparison to the other ministries run in a local church, presumably including your retired ladies meeting, toddlers group, kids clubs etc, so you’ll need a view on how those things are doing too.
In terms of whether small groups are overrated, I guess we can only answer that critique by determining whether or not groups are accountable and effective. Regarding accountability, I suspect that small groups will be no more and no less accountable than anything else in your church because they’ll reflect the engagement that the elders and pastor have with the various ministries that happen.
So, what about effectiveness? Well, to know whether or not they are effective, you need to consider what they are seeking to achieve. In that respect. What is the goal of your small group? Well to answer that I suggest we remind ourselves of the shorter catechism’s question about what our overall goal/purpose is.
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and enjoy him for ever.
Furthermore, we might consider how church plays its part in that through discipleship, teaching, worship etc. Ephesians 3 talks about God displaying his glory through the church (3:10 & 20-21) and in the context of that, Paul prays that we would grasp, or in other words, enjoy God’s amazing love. A significant element of what our church ministries are about, is enabling people to enjoy the love of God within the context of the local church.
So, how do small groups do with regard to that. Well, I want to suggest here that your small group is being effective simply in providing a context where people come together around God’s Word, enjoy each other’s company, look out for one another’s needs and pray together. Small groups become places where people are able to put into practice enjoying God and glorifying him forever. That’s it. You don’t have to look beyond that to some as yet unmentioned, harder to define and still harder to measure future result down the line to see if the groups have produced more mature disciples, the outcome is there and then to be observed when the groups meet.