Many churches are finding it hard to increase their small group participation after COVID-19. According to Lifeway Research, only 44 percent of weekend worshipers are involved in a small group, Sunday School or similar group. This is down from 49 percent in 2010.
Small groups are important for discipleship, fellowship and outreach. But many churches face challenges such as lack of leaders, space and time. Some also struggle with online options or hybrid models.
Lifeway Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors Sept. 6-30, 2022. They found that only 19 percent of churches have at least 75 percent of their worshipers in small groups. Another 30 percent have between 50 and 74 percent. About one-fourth have between 25 and 49 percent (27 percent) or less than 25 percent (24 percent).
It appears that mainline churches may face greater challenges when it comes to small group participation than their evangelical counterparts. In fact, 28% of pastors from mainline churches reported that less than a quarter of their attendees were involved in small groups, compared to 21% of evangelical pastors reporting the same low level of involvement.
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said that small groups are vital for church health and growth. He encouraged pastors to invest in training leaders, creating a culture of invitation and providing resources for groups.
“Small groups are not optional for churches that want to make disciples,” he said. “They are essential for helping people grow in their faith, connect with others and reach their communities.”