A new Lifeway Research Center survey found that small group attendance has been on the decline in recent years.
The survey, released last month, found that 44 percent of churchgoers had participated in a small group at their church in 2022, a drop from 2010 and 2008, when 49 percent and 50 percent, respectively, reported going to a small group.
The survey attributed the recent decline in small group attendance to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As churches continue ministry in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are finding it increasingly difficult to grow their small groups," the survey states.
In response to the results, Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell highlighted the importance of small groups and encouraged churchgoers to attend them.
"Small groups and Sunday school classes provide the relational glue that allows a local congregation to be a place where people love one another," McConnell said in a statement.
"Groups and relationships that are centered on the Word of God unify a congregation and motivate people to work together on the mission of the church. Churches with few people participating in groups are not in a healthy position to be making more disciples," he added.
Despite pastors having difficulty moving "worship attendees into small groups where they'll study Scripture," the survey concluded that "pastors seem to be holding onto the authority of Scripture."
Several pastors also echoed McConnell's statement about small groups.
"As for their importance, I believe they are essential for connecting members and making the church truly a family. I have found that small groups (whether traditional Sunday school or home-based) are the glue that keeps people involved and connected," North Carolina-based Elkin Valley Baptist Church senior pastor Johnny Blevins told The Christian Post.
"The large majority of the people who leave our church are not connected to a small group. With that said, it is challenging to get people involved in small groups," Blevins added. "One issue is childcare, and that is why the traditional Sunday school works best for some. The other reason people don't get involved just seems to be busyness and a failure to value them."
John Reichart, the associate pastor of The Experience Vineyard Church in Rockville Centre, New York, concurred that small groups are essential for keeping the church together."
"Small groups, led well, are the engine of character development, discipleship, mentorship and leadership development in a local church. It is difficult to see how any church can flourish for the long haul without that structure."
"Jesus, with His 12 and His particular three (Peter, James and John), has given us the model," Reichart explained. "We have to creatively contextualize. The Alpha Course is just one excellent example of creating a space for this Christian formation (and even evangelism)."
Nearly all U.S. Protestant pastors (97 percent) agree that God's Word is authoritative for their church and their lives, with 89 percent strongly agreeing, 2 percent disagreeing and 1 percent who are not sure.
The survey considered the responses of about 1,000 pastors interviewed between Sept. 6-30, 2022.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.