This post was written by Thom Rainer and originally appeared here.

Small groups are struggling, but small groups are really important.

That’s the summary statement from our Church Answers’ team as we hear from thousands of church leaders. Most of the attention has been focused on the regathering of in-person worship services, but small groups are regathering as well.

We have been clear that small groups are vital to the health of a church. They go by various names: small groups, home groups, community groups, Sunday school classes, life groups, and others. But they serve the very important purpose of connecting people to a more personal community.

Those in groups are more likely to stick to a church, will give more, will invite more, and will be more involved in ministry. A church without an intentional small group ministry is a church in bad health or headed toward bad health.

As our team at Church Answers continues to listen to thousands of church leaders, we are hearing five major and discernible trends. These trends, if they continue, will shape our group ministries for years or decades to come.

  1. Regaining momentum in small groups is tough. The pandemic caused most groups to go virtual and, even worse, to cease altogether. Most church leaders know how important groups are to the life of the church. And most leaders are challenged to get the momentum back for small groups.
  2. The ongoing small group is disappearing. We define “ongoing” as a group that continues every week with no plans of ending or taking a break. Small groups are now more likely to meet for defined periods and then take a break. The Sunday school movement began the ongoing movement in the late 1800s. That movement is slowing considerably. The decline has been accelerated and exacerbated by the pandemic.
  3. Hybrid groups are rare. A hybrid group meets in-person with a digital option. Few churches have groups taking this approach. But those groups that do take that approach may have a healthier future.
  4. Multiple groups with different purposes are declining. It has not been unusual for churches to have two different kinds of groups. For example, one type of group may be defined as primarily a fellowship group while another type of group serves the purpose of deeper discipleship. Church leaders are telling us it is really complex to have two systems of groups. One system of groups can thus serve multiple purposes.
  5. Churches that place a priority on small groups tend to be healthier. Of course, the inverse is true as well. Churches that don’t place a priority on small groups tend to be less healthy.

We really don’t need to miss the unfolding trends of small groups. While the regathering of in-person worship services rightly has our attention, we must also focus on small groups in churches.

In many ways, the health of congregations lies in the balance.

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