Small Groups and the Emerging Church: Not Missing the Forest for the Trees

Cell Basics

Published at in July 2007

by Joel Comiskey

All the signs point to the fact that the emerging church doesn’t worship like the previous generations. .

The elderly builder generation preferred traditional church services—hymns, preaching, and a strict order of service. The boomer generation, now in their 40s and 50s, chose more pizzazz and creativity. This boomer mindset gave rise to the seeker sensitive movement, in which high tech professionalism characterizes boomer worship.

The emerging generations, on the other hand, are not impressed by high tech worship. They’re looking for a simpler, more sincere approach to seeking God—one that engages body, emotions, and spirit. They want transparency and reality. They want to see Jesus lived out before they’re ready to “decide” for Jesus. Unlike the seeker movement, emerging generations desire to hear the full counsel of God, and they’re not afraid to engage in worship. They want to touch, taste, see, smell, and hear God.

Yet, I wonder if we’re missing the point about how to reach the emerging generations?

Much of the emerging church literature focuses solely on the worship service. We’re told to tweak the large group gatherings to reach an emerging generation who wants to touch, taste, see, smell and hear. Books abound on how to decorate the sanctuary with candles or how to have someone draw artwork while the pastor preaches the message.

The emerging church events that I’ve attended looked identical. Various worship stations were set up around the room with art, video, and candles. Worshippers were invited to wander, meditate, and have an individual, yet group-like experience.

Yet, the gnawing question in my mind is whether we’ve missed the forest for the trees. Have we become so hung up on how to attract the emerging generation to a worship service that we’ve missed what they really want? What is the best atmosphere to truly engage all of the senses of the emerging generation?

I can’t help but think that the atmosphere of a well-done holistic small group is what emerging generations are looking for. A person can’t sit in a living room with 3-15 adults (and perhaps children) and not feel the excitement of group interaction. The small group lesson is not about preaching a message to those who are sitting and listening. It’s about participation and life transformation. A great small group leader guides the discussion to help those present to come alive, talking only 20-30% of the time and allowing the members to share their stories. The worship is filled with group involvement—praise, prayer, and silence laced in between the lively worship. The witness time engages those present to invite friends and interact concerning how to best reach them. And of course the fellowship time is pure communication. Participants can reflect on God’s impact in their lives over cake and coffee. It’s the church in the full sense of the word. The small group environment has all the trappings to involve the emerging generations—and to do the best job at fully engaging them.

I think it’s time we start viewing the small group as the key strategy to reach the emerging generations. I believe that we need to boldly offer the emerging generations the beauty of small group ministry.

And it’s my conviction that the emerging church will even be emboldened to then take us back to the New Testament vision of house to house ministry. The time has come to unashamedly invite our emerging friends and relatives into radical idea of the church in the home—and then to watch God change lives.