5 Things You Need To Know About 21st Century Small Group Ministry


Have you ever wondered why it's more difficult today for the church to attract urbanized non-Christian people? This article by Mark Howell, explains a simple but highly significant change in our culture... "When we woke up this morning, we woke up to a very different world than our parents lived in. Truth be told, we actually woke up to a rapidly changing culture. As we step deeper into the 21st Century there are some things you need to know about how cultural changes impact small group ministry. Wise leaders will be paying attention as culture changes.

  1. Biblical literacy is a distant memory in almost every setting. This reality must be anticipated in leader training, in the design or selection of curriculum, and in the development of the group experience. Continuing to operate as if everyone knows even the people, places and events of the Bible (let alone its meaning) is already the trademark of hopelessly out of touch ministries.
  2. The expectation that the Church provides something essential is rapidly decreasing. This is an important understanding. All of the research points to the changing belief about the Church. Worse than disagreement with beliefs or practices is the sense that the Church is irrelevant.
  3. “I am a spiritual person” is growing; “I am a Christian” is declining. A correlation noted in The Rise of the Nones and the research that backs up the findings of Barna and many other organizations is that the increasing number of those who indicate no religious affiliation is primarily about the decrease in the number of nominal (or notional) Christians; Christians in name only. This actually may provide some direction for ministries nimble enough to adjust strategy to offer meaning to “spiritual people (Think about Paul’s approach in Acts 17).”
  4. A Christian worldview is not held by the majority. Beyond biblical illiteracy is the emergence of a competing worldview (or multiple worldviews). The worldview of secular humanism sees virtually everything through a completely different lens. The sanctity of human life, sexual orientation, and a biblical understanding of marriage are just three front burner issues where profoundly different beliefs are the products of a vastly different worldview held by an increasing number of people. The practice of assuming “what we all believe” will require a major overhaul in order to reach friends, neighbors, co-workers and even family members who no longer believe what we believe.
  5. Cause has the greatest potential to connect. As James Emery White points out in The Rise of the Nones, there was a time when unchurched people responded directly to a gospel message, joined in community and then joined in the cause (1950s to 1980s). This was followed by a period when unchurched people responded first to an opportunity to join a community, found Christ and then joined in the cause (1990s to 2000s). What about now? White points out that the Pew Forum study revealed that 78% of those surveyed said that “religious organizations bring people together and strengthen community bonds” and 77% said “religious organizations play an important role in helping the poor and needy.” Interpretation? “We may have lost the opportunity to walk with them (unchurched people) and talk with them, but we haven’t lost the opportunity to do good to them and for them and with them (p. 100, The Rise of the Nones).” Providing opportunities to join causes that resonate with unchurched people (i.e., clean water, orphan care, sex trafficking, etc.) offer new front doors to relationship.

I hope you are thinking about these powerful new trends as you build your small group ministry. My thinking has been impacted by a number of books including The Rise of the Nones and The Next Christians."

Posted with permission from Mark Howell

Urban Culture Transcends Borders

My urban journey has gone from Kabul to Amsterdam to Cape Town and as I lived in these very different places, I became fascinated with the rise of cities.  I was provoked to develop a theology of the city, which I have reflected in my book, 'Seeing the City With the Eyes of God'.
Here is what I learned about urban culture:
  • Urban cultures are like mountain tops... everything flows down from there to smaller towns and rural areas regardless of national borders and language differences.
  • Urban cultures are trend setters.   What happens in cities today happens in the rest of the world 5 and 10 years from now.
  • Urban cultures are multi-ethnic.  When I moved to Amsterdam there were 114 languages spoken in the city.  Today, there are more than 180 languages spoken there.
  • Vast segments of worldwide urban culture identify with American youth culture via TV, music and movies.
  • This identification is producing a hostility and backlash in certain parts of the world, namely the Middle East and the Muslim world.
  • Urban young adults are vastly different from their rural counterparts.
  • Urban sub-cultures are like villages stacked on top of each other, connecting via ethnic similarity and language, not urban geography.
  • Cities have personalities... some are financial centers, some are fashion and cultural trend setters, and still others are the center of gravity for spiritual appetite and curiosity.