Category Archives: small groups

Valuing Small Groups

church small group

Small groups promote an environment that is created to draw closer to God and others.

At South Hills we have found that it is just as important for the church to grow smaller as it is for the church to grow Larger. Another way of saying this is, as churches grow in attendance they need to grow in connection. Over the past few years South Hills has exploded from just a handful of people meeting in house to nearly 3,000 each weekend. As this has happened we have found the need for creating a church that can connect with people in a smaller setting outside the weekend services. Shaping the church into smaller communities for greater impact has become our focus. I don’t just promote groups as one option among many other activities; I promote small groups as a non-negotiable. I let people know that sharing life together takes priority over fulfilling a weekly calendar item. Small groups promote an environment that is created to draw closer to God and draw closer to others.

I have found that small groups have had a tremendous impact on our church members regardless of what level of spiritual maturity they are in or regardless of the study they’re covering. One of the common statements I hear over and over is how members have realized that they’re “not alone”. Group members realize how others face similar problems to the ones they’re currently facing. Group members find fulfillment in being able to use their experiences, talent, and gifts to lift up and encourage others. I have seen groups rally to care for each other, whether it be bringing meals to someone who is ill or has just had a new baby to helping planning funeral arrangements for a loved one. I have heard the stories of groups making sure one of their member’s bills get paid, or making sure the family who is out of work has enough to eat.Another exciting thing that happens in small groups is being able to see the bigness of God through other people’s eyes. Faith gets stretched, group members become accountable to one another, and everyone encourages each individual to grow.

For us, small groups have become a way of life, not an event. Small groups make a large church feel like a small intimate church. This is certainly true of South Hills. These groups are a place where a journey is shared, joys are shared, struggles are shared, and growth is shared. Romans 12:5b NLT says: “Since we are all of one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.” The word body is often used to describe a group of people connected for a purpose. It is innate to desire to be connected as a body or group. God has designed us to be a part of the body of Christ. It is built into our DNA to be devoted to one another and to honor one another. Romans 12:10 NIV says: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

The development of meaningful relationships, where every member carries a significant sense of belonging is the essence of what it means to grow smaller and larger at the same time. Keep in mind that there are many ways to do small groups. Find the method that works for your church. You may even use more than one method. That’s ok too. Remember, the one consistent trait of all successful small groups programs is the support of the lead pastor. I whole heartedly support our small groups and our small groups team. I encourage every person who attends South Hills to be a part of a small group. Yes, the church is meant to grow in attendance, but it should also grow in intimacy. Small groups were the example used in the early church as is still the example today.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:44-47


A Pastor’s Passion for Small Groups

The senior pastor's love for small groups is the biggest factor in predicting their success.

There are many different approaches to church growth, some more affective than others.  Here at South Hills, we have a simple three point approach which is to  1.invite people to one of our weekend services,  2.promote small groups, and 3.encourage  involvement through serving.  We have found that the more connected someone feels, the more likely that person will continue to attend our church and/or church in general.  For that reason I frequently, enthusiastically promote small groups in our weekend services and other venues. The following article excerpt by Josh Hunt, has some great insight to the importance of small groups.

Sticky Church
Rick Warren taught us that to grow a church, you need to think about five concentric circles:

  • COMMUNITY Those living around your church who never or occasionally attend.
  • CROWD Those who attend your church regularly but are not members.
  • CONGREGATION Those who are committed to both Christ and membership in your church family.
  • COMMITTED Those members who are serious about growing to spiritual maturity.
  • CORE Those members who actively serve in ministry and mission in your church.

The idea of disciplemaking and church growth is to move people ever closer to the center.

What Larry Osborne adds to the conversation is this: it is a whole lot easier to grow a church by concentrating on the inner rings– moving the crowd to the congregation and so forth, than it is to concentrate on the outer ring — moving the community into the crowd.
Much church growth thinking concentrates on the opposite — how to attract a crowd. I think Larry Osborne is right in saying that the fastest path to growth is to concentrate on the inner rings.
This seems to be the way Jesus operated. He concentrated on the few more than the masses. This was Robert Coleman’s theme in the classic work, The Master Plan of Evangelism.  While not ignoring the masses, Jesus seemed to concentrate his energy on the few. As time went along and the cross grew closer, he seemed to concentrate more and more of his energy on the few.
My own research corroborates this approach. I did a survey where I asked four questions to five hundred churches:

How many attend?
How many attended a year ago?
How many visitors do you have?
How many join?

I discovered there was very little difference between growing churches and non-growing churches in terms of their how many visitors they had (calculated as a percentage of worship attendance). There was a huge difference in terms of how many stuck around. They big difference was in what I called the “Velcro factor,” not the “magnet factor.” This is the theme of Larry’s Osborne’s book, Sticky Church.

How to Make a Church Sticky
Here is my answer: invite every member and every prospect to every fellowship every month. Have a party once a month and make sure every member gets invited. If we can get them to the party you would not be able to keep them from class.
Here is Larry Osborne’s answer: sermon-based small groups.
Larry spends five chapters discussing how small groups change everything. People grow in small groups. Small groups need to be right-sized. Small groups dispel the Holy Man myth. Small groups dispel the Holy Place myth. And so forth.

The last half of the book is why sermon-based small groups make a church sticky.
At this point, I am feeling a little stupid. I read the book twice, then skimmed it to find the answer to this question: WHY? Why are sermon-based groups better than other kind of groups at getting visitors to stick around?

Here is my take: sermon-based groups are no better or worse than other types of groups. The key variable is the Senior-pastor cheer-leading the groups.
Imagine two churches. One has a Senior pastor who is a real cheerleader of groups. He regularly attends a group and regularly tells stories about his group from the pulpit. These could be home groups or Sunday School style groups, open or closed groups, any type of groups. They key thing is, the pastor is a huge fan of groups.
Down the street we have a church that follows the sticky church model to the tee. They attend the conference. The staff all read the book. They attempt to implement the plan as carefully as they can. But, they can’t get the pastor really on board. He does a little push at first, but then he looses interest. His interest is the worship service. Groups are not that important to him.
Which church do you think will have the best groups?
Groups don’t work at North Coast because they are sermon-based. They work because the Senior pastor cheerleads them.
That is not to say that sermon based groups are a bad idea. They are not. But, they are not the silver bullet. The senior pastor’s love for groups is the single biggest factor in predicting the success of groups at any church–not the details of the model. Pick a model, any model: old fashioned Sunday School, Cho’s small groups, Carl George’s meta groups, Northpoint’s (Andy Stanley) closed group model, neighborhood groups, or any other–and get the pastor thoroughly excited about it and I will show you a model that is working.

One closing thought, small groups are an important source of connection and growth for the people of your church, and it is highly valuable for them to here this from the pastor who leads them.

Until next time,

Chris Sonksen


“Encourage every member to join a small group. Not only do they help people connect with one another, they also allow your church to maintain a ‘small church’ feeling of fellowship as it grows. Small groups can provide the personal care and attention every member deserves no matter how big the church becomes.”                                                                                                                                          – Rick Warren