Small Groups in Growing Presbyterian Churches: A Strategy That Works?

Finding ways to get people involved in church life—beyond just attending worship services—is every congregation’s challenge. How do growing Presbyterian congregations meet that challenge?

Start small groups! Many experts recommend that churches start small groups or cells to help members feel connected with others in the congregation. Small groups can also serve as a tool for involving people in the church and in community service activities. In addition, churches may offer small groups as part of their spiritual development or discipleship strategy.

Growing PC(USA) churches are more likely than other churches to utilize small groups and to offer groups that focus on different purposes.

Types small groups

Increasing participation and greater sense of connection? We found two pieces of evidence that point to a link between the predominance of small groups in growing churches and worshipers’ participation levels and sense of belonging.

  • Participation in congregational activities is more often increasing among worshipers in growing churches. One-third of worshipers in growing PC(USA) churches (32%) and 28% in other PC(USA) churches say they now participate more in activities of the congregation than they did two years ago.

Participation in cong act 2

  • More worshipers in growing congregations than in other congregations have a strong sense of belonging to their congregation that is increasing. A majority of worshipers in growing congregations (51%) feel a growing sense of belonging there; 45% in other congregations have that feeling.

Sense of belong

Not your mother’s Sunday school. Almost all growing PC(USA) congregations (99%) and other Presbyterian churches (96%) offer religious education classes, such as Sunday school. Similar shares of worshipers in both groups of congregations participate in the traditional church educational offerings.

The additional groups offered by growing PC(USA) churches are something else—groups with an intentional focus and membership. For example, more growing churches offer prayer groups, groups for community service, groups for mission trips, and groups for new members.

One other edge shows up in growing churches: More fast-growing Presbyterian churches include church school classes for adults (96% do so) than the typical PC(USA) church (87% offer adult church school classes).

Not different, but more. Most churches, including Presbyterian congregations, take seriously worshipers’ spiritual development and growth in discipleship. What separates growing congregations from other churches? Not necessarily different strategies—the majority of churches offer religious education and small group opportunities. However, growing churches more fully utilize that small group advantage.