3 Reasons Your Parish Needs Small Groups
From the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis
1. Authentic Community
Everyone longs for intimacy – it’s the way God made us. We have an innate desire to love and be loved by others. Yet, in our modern culture many people are suffering from an “epidemic of loneliness” – what Mother Teresa called “the leprosy of the West.” We are superficially hyper-connected through social media, yet our relationships lack a fundamental closeness and depth.
Our parishes are not immune to this epidemic. The families coming to the sacraments and faith formation are aching for intimacy with one another. While the Mass does connect them “sacramentally and mystically,” that union is not experienced in a relational way that satisfies the human need for friendship. We need some other context to foster those relationships.
Small groups fill that need in several ways.
- They provide a more comfortable and relaxed environment for people to get to know one another.
- They meet consistently so that trust deepens and strong friendships are built over time.
- And, they help meet the concrete pastoral needs of the community as people begin to care for one another and bear each other’s burdens.
2. Deep Transformation
If the mission of our parishes is to make disciples of Jesus (Matt. 28:19), then that means our job is calling people to conversion. Our parishes must be places where individuals can encounter Jesus, entrust their lives to him, and walk in newness of life. The challenge is that people learn best through imitation. We cannot simply tell others how to live as a disciple – the Christian life must be modeled. St. Paul understood this as he made disciples in the early Church, saying, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Here again, small groups prove invaluable. In small groups, the Christian life is not simply taught through instruction, but caught through demonstration. People can witness the living body of Christ acting in the world. They experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in person. They learn how to pray. They watch and practice the works of mercy. They learn to love one another and become “doers of the word” (Jas. 1:22).
3. Unlimited Flexibility
Parishes are huge communities – the larger metro parishes could even be considered mega churches based on the sheer number of people. If we want every single person to feel like they belong and to grow as disciples of Jesus, then we need to account for their unique schedules, circumstances, needs, and desires. We need to reach empty-nesters, young single moms, college students, newlyweds, widowers, school parents, etc.
Not only that, but our parishes exist for their non-members too – that’s another way of saying that the Church “exists in order to evangelize” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 14). So, we are trying to reach not only the regular Mass-goers, but also those people who would never darken the door of our church. Many of these people who are most in need of the Gospel are also highly allergic to church programming!
Once more, small groups are a solution. Because small groups often meet in homes, there is no competition for church facilities. Homes are also much more welcoming for church outsiders. Small groups have the flexibility to meet any time of day, any day of the week, depending on the needs of the group and availability of the leader. They can engage any group of people at any level of personal faith. And, they can provide content that most directly satisfies the needs of those people.
If you’re convinced you need small groups in your parish, give the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis a call, and we can help you get started!