Ben 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.