Many Christian Reformed churches have incorporated small group ministry as a way to encourage fellowship and develop a deeper relationship with God. According to Christian Reformed Home Missions, small group ministries are an indicator of a healthy church. It is a primary space for nurturing relationships and for individual faith formation, but also overall church growth.
At Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., small group ministry has been in place since the 1970s. The church currently has 32 household groups based on a range of special interests such as reading books together, attending concerts or plays, cooking and eating together, or hiking. Janice McWhertor, minister of congregational life for the church, has worked to start and maintain these ministry groups for over 24 years. Some groups meet for a year, but others have been together for over 20 years .
“I have found that a group is successful if each person who joins makes a commitment to show up,” explained McWhertor. “Success does not seem to be related to age, personality, vocation, or even mutual interests. The [groups] that stay together are those that make the group a priority, who give of themselves to the group, and who actively care about each adult and child in the group.”
For Faith CRC in Burlington, Ont., the Home Church small group ministry is the main adult ministry. Currently the congregation has 12 groups that meet regularly, mostly on Sundays. The groups meet through the fall and winter, using a weekly study based on the Sunday morning sermon. In the spring, the church offers classes on various topics such as finances, parenting, or spiritual development.
Leanne De Weerd, coordinator for Faith’s Home Church ministry, supports group leaders and encourages church members to join. “This is a place where care and accountability happens. We have purposely not developed any other adult classes or events so as not to take the place of Home Church.”
In Scarborough, Ont., Grace CRC decided to make small group ministry a priority this year. In September, members were encouraged to sign up for one of 10 groups offered on topics ranging from “Living Justly” or “Seeking God Intentionally” to nights of games and dinner fellowship. The groups are held at various times, some in people’s homes and others at church. There are also small groups that meet for prayer ministry or after church to discuss the Sunday morning sermon. “We pray that this year small groups will take root in our church’s ministry and become an important aspect of congregational life,” said Rev. Bart Velthuizen.
Developing a successful small group ministry is hard work. It can be difficult to find good leadership to start and maintain a group. Attendee commitment is another challenge as busy schedules dissuade members from either joining or attending regularly. But leaders attest to the importance of the ministry.
“In these groups we invite people to speak into our lives, encouraging us, challenging and correcting us. God can use these groups to speak all these things in and through ourselves and others,” said De Weerd.
McWhertor agreed that small groups can be key spaces for spiritual and emotional growth. “Even if it is a challenge to convince people to be a part of one, we continue to embrace their importance. When a group is healthy there is deep sharing of faith and deep caring for one another,” she said.
“What I have learned is to not worry so much about making the perfect group and let God be in charge of what happens in each group,” De Weerd said. “God will work out what he has brought together for a purpose.”