Small Groups: The Best Most Dangerous Thing That Can Happen to Your Parish

Small Groups: The Best Most Dangerous Thing That Can Happen to Your Parish October 23, 2014

Today at New Evangelizers, I write about “Small Groups.”  By that what I mean is a handful of parishioners — say, less than 15 — getting together to do Christian stuff together.  Learn about the faith, do a work of mercy, pray, whatever it is that particular group does.

Your parish has to have small groups.  If it doesn’t, everyone dies on the vine:

But everybody – everybody – in your parish needs a small community Human beings literally cannot socialize in large gatherings.  You’ll notice that even when we get together at large events, it’s with just a handful of others that we actually socialize.

That’s because we can’t physically hold a conversation with fifty or a hundred or five hundred other people.  We cannot be spiritually nurtured and supported by “friendship” with 1,000 of our closest pewmates.

You can pretty much divide your parish into the haves and the have nots by doing a headcount.  The haves are the people who get involved in parish life, or in informal gatherings outside the lines of the parish, and find a place to grow in their faith as part of a mini-community.  And then there’s everybody else.

Think of your parish like, say, a body.  The portion of your parish that is disconnected from intimate, spiritually-nourishing community life is the portion of your body that is starved.  Cut off.  Living on the other side of the spiritual tourniquet.

If don’t do something about that, sooner or later that part of your parish’s body is going to drop off, dead.


What you don’t need for a solution to that problem is a Small Group Program, by which we mean “I bought this boxed curricula, and the whole parish is meeting every Tuesday night for six weeks to do the breakout discussion questions, and if you don’t love it, that means something is wrong with you and also you hate us and Jesus, too.”

There’s nothing wrong with deploying group-in-a-box ministries as one part of a total parish renewal effort.  But it must be understood that any single small group can only serve 10-15 participants effectively.  So if your parish has 1500 members, that’s 150 different mini-communities you need to have deployed, unless you’re planning to leave some members excluded from parish life.

. . . There are also vastly varying spiritual needs.  Some parishioners need a gentle, help-me-not-be-afraid introduction or re-introduction to the Catholic faith.  Others needs to be pushed, hard, to use their immense gifts in the service of the Lord.  Some will be thirsty for intense prayer; others can’t process the faith except through the physicality of human interaction in the works of mercy.

Practical needs vary, too.  Some parishioners will only be able to attend if there is eldercare, childcare, an ASL interpreter, or a barrier-free facility.  Some will need a format the allows for frequent absences due to out-of-town travel or swing shifts.  Some can meet only during the day, others only in the evening, others only on the weekends.

Contrary to popular belief, this diversity of spiritual and physical needs doesn’t begin at age eighteen, either.  To assume that birth date is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Christian children is to commit a gross act of spiritual violence against the human person.  Kids need a variety of choices in spiritual formation, just like adults do.

If you read the whole thing, you can learn about a small group I sat in on recently that did an excellent job of being just what it was supposed to be.  Inspiring!

(And let me brag on my own pastor, he’s been a stand-up guy about accommodating lay-initiatives within the parish just about any time he can.  If he can say yes to a small group request, he does.  And our parish is deploying more new staff-generated opportunities for adults to get plugged in.  I’m impressed with us.  Yay!)

I love it when good stuff happens in the Church.  Go Catholics!



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