Church leaders in the US are being urged to do more to encourage small group attendance in their congregations.
A study seeking to understand the “health” of churches post-pandemic in the United States has revealed that on average, just under half of the current weekend worship attendees of churches are involved in a small group.
This represents a decline in the number of people involved in a small group from 50 percent of the congregation in 2008 to 44 percent in 2022.
Scott McConnell, executive director at LifeWay research, told Premier Christian News that small group attendance is seen as a church's health indicator because they help people with “becoming more like Jesus Christ”.
“It also lines up with social theology research that shows us that the biggest drivers of behaviour change are the two or three people who you have the closest relationships with.
“And when you can be developing those relationships in a church setting where you have a common goal of becoming more like Christ, and you're anchored in the Word of God, in the experiences that you have, on a regular basis, then you're really encouraging that and fostering that,” he continued.
People who are involved in small groups tend to be more involved in evangelism, both inviting people to church and sharing the gospel, previous Lifeway Research showed.
They also tend to be giving more, have more significant relationships in the church and are more involved in service and in personal spiritual disciplines.
Although the research didn’t analyse the possible reasons for the drop in attendance, McConnell said previous research found it could be related to “breaking a habit”.
“In the same way we saw people after their churches closed for a while, during Covid, it took a while for them to build the habit back of going to worship services, the same thing can happen with small groups when the habit is broken…it can be hard to re-establish that habit, and just the busyness of life can get in the way,” McConnell added.
Small churches find it more difficult to incorporate worship attendees into small groups, especially churches with less than 50 attendees. According to pastors of such churches, less than 25 per cent of their attendees participate in small groups.
The study also found that churches where pastors send a clear message from the pulpit of the importance of small groups have a higher percentage of people engaging in weekly meetings.
McConnell concluded: “When you set the expectation, people are willing to engage more, and so some of the responsibility lands on church leadership to set the bar high. This is something we do in following Christ as we follow him together. Not just all of us in one big room with worshipping God, which is very important, but also in smaller groups, where we can have more interaction and be diving into God's Word together.”