Leading Change: Small Groups vs. Sunday Night Worship

change.jpgBen raises an interesting point in a comment, and I thought the topic merited a separate post, because so many churches struggle with whether to give up our traditional Sunday night worship in order to start small groups.

Ben notes that even in megachurches, small group attendance isn’t much different from the attendance many of our churches experience on Sunday night — about 50% of Sunday morning attendance. He’s right, but I think there are a couple of telling differences.

The 50% that attend a Sunday night worship will mainly be our older members. The 50% that attend small groups will be skewed more toward the younger members.

Now, in a small church, a Sunday night worship can serve some of the same functions as a small group. The way we can tell is this: if young couples are also coming and if people are either hanging around the building to talk or going out to eat together, the worship service does much of what a small group program would.

But if people come, worship, and leave, then even if we have excellent attendance, it’s hard to figure what we’re accomplishing on Sunday nights that hasn’t already been accomplished that morning.

My experience is that as the church gets larger, Sunday night becomes less attractive and small groups become more attractive to the members. I doubt that many megachurches have much success with Sunday night worship.

Now, I wouldn’t push small groups solely as an age matter. Rather, to me, small groups offer several advantages that we just can’t get with a Sunday night worship service –

* A small group program is a great way to get people involved in service to others.

* Small groups is a great way to help new members assimilate, make friends, and get involved.

* Small groups can work well for spiritual formation.

* Small groups can serve as accountability groups, helping us encourage one another to greater commitment.

* Many churches have had great success at evangelism through small groups.

On the other hand, Sunday night worship can be a chance for fellowship and assimilation, and can be a chance to do additional teaching, but it’s generally not a good means for spiritual formation, accountability, evangelism, or community service. And in a larger church, Sunday night worship is unlikely to be effective at assimilation.

Therefore, to me, the case for small groups over Sunday night worship is overwhelming. And the case grows stronger as the church grows larger.

Nonetheless, I think the leadership needs to be respectful of the differing needs of older members. We have one small group meet at our building on Sunday night and they offer communion to those who were unable to attend that morning. It’s attended by our older members who prefer the rhythm of being at the building on Sunday night. But we have our staff in the homes with the small groups, not at the building, where they can be the most effective.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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5 Responses to Leading Change: Small Groups vs. Sunday Night Worship

  1. Nick Gill says:

    I am deeply and passionately in favor of Sunday PM small groups. I've mentioned it before, so I won't belabor it. BUT, I also have several thoughts in the other direction.

    In favor of Sunday evening worship, I would mention that as more and more of lower-middle-class and below people transition into less M-F 8-5 work and into jobs where weekend work will be required, Sunday AM is going to be less and less available (at least at the times we're willing to assemble — that short window that allows a bit of sleeping in but doesn't encroach on football).

    Also, one of my professors said that while he worked for seven years with a bilingual congregation in Houston, there was confusion because the Anglo Christians tended to worship in the AM, while the Latino believers worshipped much more regularly at the evening assembly. One of the Anglo leaders was concerned that the predominantly Latino gathering only used the main auditorium at night, until he understood that the PM service WAS their big assembly of the day. They preferred to gather to eat the Lord's SUPPER, not the Lord's Breakfast. 🙂

    Differences in culture and work schedules need to be taken into account. I know that when my job required me to work Sunday mornings for several months, my spiritual life would have suffered had I not had Sunday evening assembly.

    It is an interesting challenge — the church cannot "cater to" everyone's situation, but some people cannot change jobs to attend AM worship.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Nick,

    That's an interesting take.

    Our small group that meets in the building on Sunday nights does a devotional, so that those who missed morning church aren't left out.

    I also know of some small groups that offer communion in their homes for members who can't attend Sunday morning.

    Most of our small group participants would prefer to be with their small group than attend Sunday pm worship. In fact, at times we have an event planned for Sunday night and have trouble getting many small groups to interrupt their meetings to come. I mean, people can get very attached to the meetings.

  3. Ben Wiles says:

    The key sentence in the above post is both true and enlightening:

    "The case grows stronger as the church grows larger."

    I would argue that the converse is also true, especially when you consider that the vast majority of congregations — regardless of denominational affiliation — are by any definition "small."

    As a church grows larger, its ability to retain its smallness becomes ever-more important. When that becomes impossible on Sunday morning, or even Sunday night, some other way must be found.

  4. Mia Harris says:

    i think that spiritual life is much more important compared to our earthly life.`*,

  5. spiritual life is really more important than our earthly life;~.

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