I have always enjoyed politics. The Southern Leadership Conference was in New Orleans this past week and the Tea Party Movement is receiving attention from both liberal and conservative news media. I was watching a pundit describe how the Republicans may not end up benefiting from the Tea Party Movement this coming election because, although the two groups have much in common, they may end up splitting over secondary issues, which could impact the upcoming election for both groups.
As I listened, I immediately began to think about the Sunday School and Small Group movements. I know how difficult it is sometimes for leaders in these two movements to agree on some issues. In fact, it often looks like both movements want to, shall we say, major on the minors when we dialogue with each other. We argue over things like; do unchurched people feel more comfortable coming to a home or a church facility? Content or community… which is more important? LifeWay curriculum or Group? I am a little embarrassed to admit I've entered into some of these arguments myself, and more than once I've felt my temperature rising over an issue was more secondary than primary in importance.
What has occurred to me is that the Sunday School and Small Group Movements have more in common with each other than we may realize. I have put together a list of things about which I believe we can find common ground.
1. A belief that lives are more easily transformed within a framework of "small groups". Whether it is in a classroom or a living room, the opportunity to meet with a small group of people that studies the Bible together, prays with each other, and ministers to each person in the group is a powerful foundation for spiritual transformation.
2. "Open groups" are essential to evangelism and sharing the Gospel. Groups that are easily accessible by new people are very effective in helping unchurched or unevangelized people engage the Gospel message both through Bible study and interaction with followers of Christ.
3. Groups are key to assimilating new members and bringing them into a closer walk with Christ. Rainer's data states that 86% of new believers that are active in a Sunday School class will still be around five years later.
4. The church needs leaders and a healthy small group structure will equip new people to step into the church's leadership needs.
5. Healthy groups start new groups. I have found that the window to start a new group in both Sunday School and Small Groups is 18-24 months. The longer a group waits to start a new group, the harder it becomes.
6. Keeping a robust, healthy structure is hard work… period! I don't care which strategy you prefer, it takes time, work, and people skills to lead either one.
7. Patience truly is a virtue for both classes and groups. Rome wasn't built in a day and Jesus' twelve followers did not become best buds after their first mission trip.
8. That context is more important than personal preference about which strategy (SS or SG) that your church uses.
9. Finally, both groups realize (hopefully) that structure and strategy are no substitutes for relationships and passion. Groups that thrive on relationships and have a passion for ministry can overcome terrible structure and poor strategy. The reverse is not true.
As I grow older, I guess I'm less interested in fighting and more interested in making friends. It seems to me that sometimes two movements that have similar goals and interests can sometimes spend more time arguing over less important issues and forget about all we have in common. Sunday School and Small Group leaders can learn a lot from each other, and I believe we could help both movements become stronger as a result!