Basic Concepts of Small Groups
Healthy congregations focus membership development in small groups. Those groups can take many forms, but basically are small (8 to 15) gatherings of people who agree to meet regularly (weekly, monthly) for the express purpose of forming Christian community.
They can do work, pursue a spiritual or study agenda, or meet for social enjoyment. The point is the gathering and the trusting and loving relationships that emerge over time.
In a healthy congregation, this small group is the place where belonging and care-giving take place. Some pastoral emergencies like hospitalization or death, require the congregation's pastoral staff to respond, as well.
In a healthy congregation, new groups are constantly being formed and new members, as well as longtime members, are being encouraged to join them.
The idea of focusing a parish's membership ministries in small groups will seem old hat to many church leaders and will seem far-fetched, even threatening to others. Here is a rationale for Small Groups.
Small groups were Jesus' model for ministry
Jesus was surrounded by hierarchical models of organization, from imperial army and courts to Jewish temple cult to patriarchal family. Instead of adopting any of these, Jesus formed circles of friends, in which care for persons and providing support during troubles mattered far more than allocating power.
These were "flat" organizations, to use a modern term, meaning they were inclusive of all, self-regulating, non-hierarchical, not concerned with wealth or power, not directly tied to his charisma. The tight command-and-control model that Christianity later adopted was a creation of the early Church, not a model established by Jesus.
The circles formed by Jesus focused on transformation of life, healing, learning about the in-breaking Kingdom of God, and serving others. The first apostles added table fellowship and communal property.
They existed as long as they were needed and effective, not forever as immutable tradition or local custom.