Optimum size for disciple making

Posted: November 18, 2013 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: , , ,

campus-btn-massillonAccording to Joseph Meyers in his book entitled, The Search to Belong, he says that people experience belonging in four spaces:  Public, Social, Personal, and Intimate.  According to Alex Absalom, of RiverTree Christian Church in Massillon, Ohio, churches typically provide three of these four spaces as they make disciples:

  • public space –for example a worshiping congregation (100+ people),
  • social space–a missional community (20-70 people), and
  • personal space–a small group (3-12 people).

Although a church needs to provide all three, he contends that it is the middle-sized social space that is most critical for a church to provide.  In fact, he suggests that the early church, when it experienced its greatest growth, primarily functioned at that size.  Thus, it’s ironic that the present-day church typically has a much greater bias for the public and personal-sized spaces and typically is weakest in offering the social-sized spaces.

The reason this size is so effective in making disciples is that such groups usually form around some common affinity (e.g. parents with young children, they all live in a particular neighborhood, they enjoy camping, etc.), and they are large enough that unchurched persons who share that same affinity, but who are new, aren’t threatened as they would be in joining a smaller group (i.e. personal space).  For example, if you invited an unchurched (or non-Christian) to a meal in your home, they would likely find it much more anxiety producing than if you had invited them over to your house for a BBQ outside with a bunch of your neighbors.

rivertree_GCbanners_233x132In Alex’s church, these social-space sized groups are called Go Communities (Go Co’s).  They intentionally encourage people to be a part of an affinity group of 20-70 that are missional and evangelistic.  When the groups gather once or twice each month, they break into smaller personal-sized groups for a time of prayer and accountability, so small groups naturally develop as a part of their social-sized Go Co’s.  Thus, RiverTree Christian Church is actually more concerned that its members are participating in a Go Co than attending its weekly worship services.  More on that later.

So, how about your church?  How many social-sized groups to you offer?  Should that sized group become a more important part of your church’s disciple-making strategy?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


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