For too long, the current church in the United States has lived off of the “glory days” of the 1970s and 1980s when people came to church because “that’s just what you did.” Back then thriving churches attracted people if either their music or preaching was better than the church’s down the street.

But what do both of those churches do when people stop coming?

In their book Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson cast vision for the church to be missional again. They believe one distinction of the missional church is meeting needs both inside and outside the church.

But according to George Gallup, 70% of Americans claim the church is not meeting their needs. When asked what these needs were, there were six common responses:

  1. To believe life is meaningful and has purpose. 
  2. To have a sense of community and deeper relationships. 
  3. To be appreciated and respected. 
  4. To be listened to and heard. 
  5. To grow in faith.
  6. To receive practical help in developing a mature faith.

Stetzer and Dodson say these needs can be met in a variety of ways, but coupled with the need to be missional, small groups outside of the church is an option many churches need to take seriously.

According to George Gallup, 70% of Americans claim the church is not meeting their needs.

In Revelation, Jesus speaks to the church of Sardis, located in a city that has seen its best days and is living on its past reputation. This reminds me of many great towns in the United States where industry and manufacturing have left.

It is interesting to note that Jesus doesn’t tell them to feel sorry for themselves or blame trends of the culture. He tells them they have stopped doing the things that made them great in the first place.

The highlight of this challenge is to “remember what you have received and heard.” Remember the gospel. Meeting needs in the community builds opportunities for sharing the gospel.

Stetzer writes:

“Once a small-group system is implemented, a number of benefits accrue. Small groups allow people the opportunity to build significant relationships. Small groups are easier to reproduce or multiply than large groups. They do not require as much space or as many resources. In addition, they provide an excellent context to reproduce leaders and have the potential for unlimited growth.”

West Burnsville Baptist Church, assisted by Rick Hughes and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, is in the process of evaluating the part in-home small groups play in our church. We currently have a few groups located outside the church, but are primarily following a traditional model with groups in classrooms on Sunday mornings. We know we must look at expanding outside the church to address our space issues as well as fulfill our primary calling of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

As a pastor, I realize you may cringe at the thought of this undertaking. Transitions are difficult. Institutional and spiritual factors of the church can cause even greater hindrances to the process. Prayer and patience are vital for everyone involved.

But there are also benefits. Stetzer adds, “Small groups are an excellent way to get newcomers involved in the life of the church, and they can help close the ‘back door.’ Small groups increase a church’s ability to care for its members… are also conducive to life change and spiritual formation.”

During this process, the Lord will move through your church, tending it, blessing it, and dealing with your pastor while speaking words of comfort and loving rebuke to all. But no matter what decisions your church makes, remember your calling — to courageously pursue and share the gospel.