“Small groups make you feel like you’re coming home to family,” says Renea Smallwood, member of Beltsville church (Md.) and recent small groups leader. “I don’t consider myself a natural born leader, so I was very hesitant when our associate pastor, Will Johns, asked me to lead out to teach quilting, but, in the end, my love for it won out and I agreed.”
Smallwood gathered up her extra sewing machines and materials and began her five-week class, in which over a dozen people faithfully attended. “It definitely stretched me as a person, but it was truly a blessing to meet new people and share something I am passionate about. I already have people asking me when the next class will begin.”
This winter, ten groups ran, including a women’s Bible study that met at LivingWell, a knitting class, health class, one that focused on finances as well as a jiu-jitsu class for parents and their children to learn self-defense – many of which had community members in attendance. These small groups operate on a six to eight week cycle, during the summer, fall and winter, with breaks in between.
Johns says that all churches have built-in small groups, like choir members, Sabbath School teachers and Pathfinders. “We conducted a study and discovered 44 groups like this within our church,” he said. “We learned that people in these groups often feel more connected to the church, like they’re engaging in a meaningful way and are building friendships with people interested in the same things as them.” As a result, Beltsville leaders became more intentional in offering a variety of small groups and focused more on getting new members and visitors connected.
Groups are usually held on weekdays and meet at the church, members’ homes or a facility that better meets needs. Members often approach church leaders with a small group idea and and sometimes the pastors ask people they think may be interested in leading or have a unique talent. Groups are advertised in the bulletin and on Beltsville’s website, but Johns say the most effective advertisement has been word of mouth, since people talk about things they’re excited about.
“Our mission is to equip fully engaged, missional disciples of Jesus,” says Johns. “We believe our mission will be realized through each goal in a four step process of: connecting people with God, with each other, with the community and a life of spiritual growth. We believe small groups will help us fulfill our mission.”