The Need for More Community
Community is something that evades most Calvary Chapels, mine included. We emphasize teaching the Scripture verse by verse and that is usually left to one man and a few assistants. Part of our challenge is that we are a portable church. I think I am one of the few, if not the only portable church pastor on this blog. Being portable brings with it several challenges that churches with permanent facilities dont’t have. First is that we only have our main meeting space between the hours of 7 AM and 1PM on Sunday mornings and second, we don’t have space to do church wide fellowships. Just recently a Baptist church in town started letting us use their facility.
This has left us with a dilemma on how to connect our people to each other. When we first started we were serious about small groups, in fact they were one of our core values. The problem was that even though we had a lot of mature Christians as part of our plant we didn’t have the breadth to do more than one or two groups at a time. That is fine when your church is small starting out but we didn’t have that luxury. We simply didn’t have enough leaders or host homes to have a viable small group ministry. After several years of starting and stopping we finally stopped them altogether and I started teaching a mid-week study through Revelation. It was great and the group was committed but we only had 25-30 people each week. That wasn’t even ten percent of our adult congregation.
Then this January I had to take an intensive class for my MDiv at Liberty University. It was taught by Dr Dave Earley. The title of the class was “Leading a Healthy Church.” The purpose of the class was to get churches that were stuck in a rut out of it. Out of the sixty people in the class I was the only non-Baptist pastor there, but to be honest my church was just as stuck as some of these hundred year old, dye in the wool Baptist churches. Dr. Earley has written several books but two books changed my outlook and process for how we do community at The Village Chapel. The first book is “The Small Group Leaders Toolkit.” Don’t let the title fool you, this is a book for any leader in your church. Great, very practical, knowledge on how to do ministry. The next book was “8 Habits of Effective Small Groups.” This is a nuts and bolts book on how to have a growing surviving small group ministry. It rocked my world and has revolutionized our small groups.
At the end of January we put out a call for people who wanted to lead a small group. We wanted to start out small and perfect the process but we had ten small group leaders step forward. We trained them on a Saturday morning and let them choose what they wanted to teach through. Some chose inductive studies through a book of the Bible and other chose, myself included, a DVD series to go through. We had an amazing response to the signups. Most groups were full before they started and remain that way. We went from 25 people on a Thursday night to over 100 adults in ten groups and that doesn’t include our women’s study which has been meeting for years.
It also energized our Sunday mornings in several ways. First was through fellowship. We have a brief greeting time between worship and the teaching. It has been increasingly difficult to quiet this group down to start teaching. Second our volunteers have shot through the roof. Our Children’s director attends our Parenting small group. She was initiating a new check in method and needed volunteers and it ended up being completely staffed by the women of our small group! Finally, more people are being ministered to. I am amazed each week of the reports of the small groups loving on someone in their group who is hurting. That is coverage I could never do.
My church was desperate for community and I have to think that other churches are too. We can’t forget the power that comes when people are connected on a deeper level. I know a lot of Calvary Chapel Pastors do the two services a week model and it works well, some even do three. The difficulty this presents is that we spend all of our time studying and teaching and run the risk of restricting our community of believers. Furthermore we lose an arena that is perfect for training future leaders. All of this adds to and strengthens the community of your church. By further developing the community of your church you will increase the ministry and decrease your workload while at the same time breathing fresh life into your people. If the community of your church is lagging I challenge you to take in a new direction.
We at CCEsco are in the midst of a developing and refocusing attention on small groups too. At the end of 2011 we pulled the trigger and discontinued our Wednesday night service, which caused a few people in the church to be a little upset, but there were very few people disenfranchised by the move.
We have between 500-600 adults who regularly attend on a Sunday, and saw no more than 40 coming out to the midweek, which I believe is evidence of a cultural shift taking place in many churches. Nearly 10 years ago we had put a hold on our midweek service for a summer to focus on home fellowships. We went [at that time] from about 70 attending on Wednesday nights to 300+ involved in home groups.
So, we’re retooling, and retraining some leaders. I’ll have to take a look at the books you referenced.
In a church where we have between 230 to 270 attendance on Sundays, we’ve got around 100 plus people who attend our various small group types of gatherings. We have no Wednesday night service. And our Sunday night service sees about 20 people frequent it. We’ve definitely seen the desire for small group type of community out-weigh the desire for more large services in our context as well. And I believe the growth and discipleship we’ve seen as a result of emphasizing the small contexts outside of doing really well at Sunday mornings would’ve been missed if we just went the traditional way. But this makes sense, as we’ve always been taught in CC, we want to be like the early church and do things “publically, AND house to house.”
Good post, Chuck. It’s exciting to see what the Lord is doing in your church.
For the first time my wife and I are actually leading a small group at our house and we are being so blessed by it. Even though we are doing a DVD series by Chip Ingram the discussion and fellowship is so sweet. It is the highlight of our week and we are already mourning when the group will be done. In the eight weeks since we started we have seen amazing results.
Thanks for the post Chuck. I am so glad to hear that you and your wife are setting the example of being involved in a group yourself. The body needs to see what you promote is truly what you value.
Yeah this is a broad problem that many churches face (ours included). Small groups are a great environment for leaders to cut their teeth, and a great tool to train them. Getting those potential leaders is hard though. I want more for my men than they want for themselves.
I’ll check out the tools you mentioned.