Forest City's Experiment With Reinforcing Relationships

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Pastor Rob Hogendoorn saw a growing gap between weekly attendance and small group participation at Forest City Community Church, where many attenders are exploring church for the first time.  The Forest City attendance graph showed growth. Their home group graph showed plateau. They began to ask the question, “Why are small groups not growing at the same rate as our congregation?”

The working small group model at Forest City Church came from Acts 2 where Christians met together in the temple courts and in homes. Like many churches, they adopted a large group/small group approach for developing discipleship relationships. They believed small group relationships reinforced spiritual growth and created a space for people to process life in a personal way.

In reality, it was proving difficult to get people into small groups, especially those new to church. Newcomers found a small home group discussing the Bible to be foreign, and maybe even strange. The majority of people in Small Groups were Christians. In addition, it was hard to recruit leaders and get people connected to groups.

Rob and his team realized that they had a ministry that was attractive and succeeding with newcomer to church: Alpha. What was it about Alpha that worked? Their Alpha courses usually have 25-50 attenders who have dinner together and watch a presentation together before they break into smaller groups for discussion. They decided to try an experiment that incorporates elements of Alpha.  

The new spiritually reinforcing relationships are called “Villages.” Villages are groups of 25-40 that have a house party feel but also a focus on people’s faith journey. Gatherings will start with food and then shift to a 20 minute conversation that builds on the Sunday morning talks. Finally, the groups will break up into smaller groups for more private 15 minute conversations and prayer. The groups will be led by a strong mission minded team and meet twice a month.

They are hoping to shift the paradigm from small groups to Villages in order to grow more access to discipling relationships. They are expecting more new to church people will feel comfortable attending a Village and that it will be easier to make quick connections. They plan to plant two Villages this year and see what they can learn!

What type of reinforcing relationships work in your church community? What are the reasons that they are working or not working? 

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