A new year always brings a new sense of hope and excitement, but 2022 may bring a heightened sense of both with some apprehension. While the omicron variant has caused the year to get off to a shaky start at many churches, there appears to be a renewed sense of optimism about the days that are ahead. One of the major concerns facing churches as COVID concerns wane is will people come back to church?

As churches enter this new era, they face two major challenges that have frequently been discussed over the past couple of years. They must regather people and rebuild fellowship. Most churches have the structure to do this through their small groups or Sunday School classes. In fact, my observation is that groups that have stayed connected to each other through the past couple of years are stronger, and many are larger than they were before. Groups are going to be vital in this next season of church life, and here are a few key reasons why they are important.

They are key to connection. Groups are where people “stick” in the life of the church. For years Sunday School was called the evangelistic arm of the church and, consequently, was the front door to the church. In recent years, many have talked about the worship service or internet presence as being the church’s front door. I like what my friend Doug Matlock, Oklahoma Baptists new Discipleship/Small Groups Ministry Partner, said about this matter.  He said, “Small groups are still the front door to the church. The worship experience is only a window that people look through at the church, but the small group is where people actually come into the church.” People get connected in small groups, and people who are in small groups stay connected to the church.

They are key to community. The worship service environment is not designed for—nor conducive to—developing community. The small group environment is the place where the closest and strongest relationships within the church take place. This is where people care for each other at the deepest level with fellowship and ministry taking place. This has always been a great need, but the past couple of years have made this need even greater today. This year will provide the small group structure in churches the opportunity to meet the great need of community not only for those in the church but those who will come to church looking for answers and hope.

They are key to commitment. The statistics tell a compelling story related to participation in a small group at church. Those who are a part of a small group consistently attend more, serve more and give more to the church. There is something about being in a group of people that know your name and shares life with you that creates a layer of “soft” accountability. Even greater than the expectation that being in a group helps create is an environment that cultivates spiritual growth and maturity. Spending time together, studying God’s Word and sharing the valleys and victories of life helps people to grow closer to the Lord and each other. Praying together for the needs that are shared knits people’s hearts together and calls people to the One who can bring all that is needed.  It’s a fact—people who are involved in small groups demonstrate a greater commitment to Christ and His church.

As we move toward the spring of this new year, I pray we will not miss the opportunity our small groups provide to strengthen the church.  Pastors don’t forget the importance of small groups in the life of the church and be a champion for them.

Small group leaders and teachers, don’t forget the importance of what you do and be faithful. Church family, be faithful in your small group, and if you don’t have one get involved in one this week. You will benefit from it and be a blessing to those in it with you.