The search for the elusive “silver bullet” that will transform our parish is very real. We tend to have a list of things we circle around over and over:
- New Website!
- Social Media!
- Evangelization Committee!
- Hospitality Ministers!
One thing that is always at the top of our silver bullet list is … SMALL GROUPS!!
Small groups sound like the perfect solution for evangelization in a parish. People gather on a regular basis to build community and share faith. In a very real way, small groups seem to fit the vision of Pope Francis who calls for the parish to be “a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.” (Evangelii Gaudium #28)
But is this the reality? The very next line in Evangelli Gaudium points out a harsh truth. “We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (#28)
No Silver Bullet
Why have our small groups failed to help our parish become a “community of communities?” Usually one of two things happens when a parish launches a small group ministry.
- They take off like wildfire. The parish recruits many volunteers, hands them excellent resources, and invites the entire parish to join a small group, often during Lent. These groups flare up very quickly but also die off very quickly. They often do not last long enough for the type of friendship, community, and spiritual transformation that we are hoping for.
- They last forever. Many times small groups will form that have lasting power. These groups last for 10, 20, even 30 years. These people become very good friends and that is very good. They also tend to become very insular. Participants are very reluctant to change the dynamics of the group by inviting new people.
As it turns out, small groups are not the answer. If they were, we could have packed up and gone home years ago.
(But They Can Help)
Here is the thing, though; small groups can actually be very helpful for evangelization when done right. When approached in the right way small groups can be a very natural way to build a trusting community of friends in which people can encounter Jesus Christ and be transformed.
While proper facilitation techniques and the right content are very important to make a small group truly evangelizing, perhaps the most important ingredient to an evangelizing small group is the Facilitator.
It Begins with Spiritual Leadership
No publisher knows each individual in your group. In order to reach people in a small group the Facilitator has to be a Spiritual Leader, not just a volunteer.
A Small Group Facilitator who sees herself as a Spiritual Leader will:
- work to be a catalyst for the spiritual transformation and growth of each person in her group;
- take personal responsibility for creating a trusting atmosphere in which people feel comfortable being vulnerable;
- take seriously her own relationship with Jesus through the Church, knowing that she cannot give what she does not have;
- bring the faces and names of the people in her group to prayer each and every day;
- mentor people one on one when the opportunity arises; and
- model evangelization by continually inviting new people into the group.
It really is not that complicated. Small Groups live and die based two essential ingredients – the Holy Spirit and You! And while they might not be the answer, they can play an important role in renewing your parish and creating missionary disciples.