Over the last few years, Wade Clark Roof writes, major changes are unfolding in small group ministries, both Catholic and Protestant.
A well-known scholar on recent American religious life, Roof writes on the religion web site Beliefnet.com that across the country more people are involved than ever before in small groups — anywhere from 33 percent to 43 percent of the total population. Asked why they joined and remained in these groups, many said they found strength and support for their problems by helping others in these settings.
There, more than in large congregational settings, participants are finding the opportunity to “start over” their lives.Roof goes on to ask whether such groups really do have a lasting influence on the participants. Some may lack spiritual depth and others have only narrow community outreach. Some small groups reflect the “tacky” shallow quality of today’s religious life. But Roof writes that the research shows that many who stay involved for longer periods of time are helped, they do start over. They explain they are looking for personal experience more than for doctrinal instruction; they learn from others often more than from the educational programs of their own parishes.
Roof adds that there are significant changes in small groups. More small groups are less self-absorbed, the people seem more committed to serious quest. More are joining also because the group experience serves as a tested springboard to help them become involved in specific outreach ministries in their own churches.
The author finds more emphasis on “partnering”, rather than on “recovery” and a deeper understanding of community responsibilities. Some new groups are self consciously inter-generational, adding a variety to small groups that didn’t exist before. Roof concludes with the hope that small groups have the potential to transform many of the older, entrenched organizations and practices into “sustainable spiritual dwelling places.”
— By Erling Jorstad