Small groups are a key component to relationship growth in the modern church, yet they have seen their popularity slide in recent years, according to a new Lifeway Research survey.
The poll found that an average of 44 percent of Protestant churches’ weekly worship attendance is involved in a “small group, Sunday School class or similar group.” That’s down from 49 percent in 2010 and 50 percent in 2008.
The survey, released this week, polled 1,000 Protestant pastors.
“Small groups and Sunday School classes provide the relational glue that allows a local congregation to be a place where people love one another,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Groups and relationships that are centered on the Word of God unify a congregation and motivate people to work together on the mission of the church. Churches with few people participating in groups are not in a healthy position to be making more disciples.”
Meanwhile, churches are doing a slightly better job of retaining those who committed their lives to Christ, with 56 percent of pastors today saying all their new commitments in the past 12 months become active in the life of the church. That’s compared to 53 percent in 2018 and 51 percent in 2008.
On average, Protestant churches have had an average of 15 new commitments to Christ in the past 12 months. That’s on par with 2010 (15) and 2008 (14).
The volunteer rate at church has also remained stable. Today, 42 percent of adult attendees have regular responsibilities at church, such as greeting, teaching or volunteering in child care. That’s similar to 2010 (42 percent) and 2008 (43 percent).
“Some of the smallest churches are hanging on, often for many years, in an unhealthy position of letting a few people serve. In contrast, other churches have an all-hands-on-deck culture,” McConnell said. “The entire tone of a small church can swing quickly if just a handful more people volunteer.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.