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In just the past couple decades, the Church has experienced a major transition as the Sunday School model has been replaced by small groups. This strategic shift was pioneered by forward-thinking leaders seeking a more effective method of discipleship relevant to their culture. While this transition was critical, I’m sure it’s not the last to be made. As our culture continues to change, our methods will undoubtedly have to adjust.

What future shift could be on the horizon? Here’s what I believe:

Volunteer teams have the potential to replace small groups as the strategic cornerstone for community and discipleship.

By “volunteer teams,” I’m not just talking about people who serve during weekend worship services. While those are certainly important, the greatest potential lies with serving in the community. The work of the church, after all, is to equip followers of Christ to do as He did.

Consider the following factors that could lead the Church to this change…

  1. Millennials are already serving more than previous generations.

    Just a few months ago, the AP reported a significant increase in the level of volunteer involvement among adults under 30 years old. In 1989, just 14% of adults under 30 volunteered. In 2013, that number reached 20%. Granted, 1 out of 5 leaves plenty of room for growth. But previous generational trends suggest that Millennials will only get more involved in community service.

  1. Millennials are already serving with the purpose of developing community.

    Churches utilize small groups to develop relationships. Volunteer teams have already shown that they can accomplish the same goal. Recent research from The Case Foundation suggests that over half of volunteering millennials serve with the motivation of meeting new people. If you’ve ever been a part of a service project, you’ve likely seen what happens when strangers discover a shared sense of purpose as they work toward a goal they could never accomplish as individuals.

  1. Service projects can be strategically leveraged to form small groups.

    Service projects provide a great opportunity for people to meet and make personal connections. In fact, they’re much more relational than the majority of small group connection systems. In the near future, could churches replace registration forms with service projects and lead people to form groups with those they meet while volunteering?

  1. Service projects are incredibly invite-able.

    As the unchurched rate in our society grows, we cannot continue expecting people with no felt need for the Church to see immediate value in our worship services. Service projects on the other hand are naturally valued by the vast majority regardless of their opinion of church. How much easier could it be for your members to invite their friends to serve the community?

  1. We just might look more like the church Jesus called us to be.

    When Jesus called his followers to be salt and light, he was clear on what that looked like: “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16 ESV) What if the greatest evangelistic strategy lied outside of our buildings?

I’m not suggesting that the principles underlying small groups have no place in the future church. But as society continues to value community involvement, it is only a matter of time before the Church also heightens its value for volunteering to engage more people in community and discipleship.

What incredible potential the Church has to organize, equip and commission groups of people to do what Jesus did in their own neighborhoods. The bond formed in doing ministry together is uniquely powerful, providing the opportunity for a level of community that the Church at large has yet to experience.


Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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