Christian Churches Have Experimented With Sg Ministry Theology Religion Essay

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A growing concern among churches for spiritual and numerical growth has created tremendous interest in the use of small group (SG). Because of this, the majority of Christian churches have experimented with SG ministry in their church at one point in time. The current trend of churches in America seems to portray a culture of SGs in almost every aspect (Wuthnow, 2001). Many churches have proven that SGs have undoubtedly become quite a powerful tool to increase church attendance and membership (Stark & Finke, 2000).
Some studies conducted during the last 2 decades seem to indicate that SG ministry is really catching fire. Wuthnow (1996) did a study and found out that there were 75 million adult Americans who regularly attended an SG in 1995 (p. 45). They were involved in prayer group meetings, Bible study groups, or any other SG. According to statistics given by United States Census Bureau (1995), the total United States population on January 1, 1995 was 261,638,000; this means around 35% of adult Americans were attending SGs. Wuthnow (2004), in a later research based on the data from the National Congregations Study, stated that 87% of church members involved in this study were in "women’s groups, Bible study groups, and groups of children" (p. 75).
In a more recent study, Dougherty and Whitehead (2011) of Baylor University examined the relevance of SGs to individuals’ commitment and participation. The results of the study indicated that in large congregations, church members who are actively involved in SGs were more devoted to prayer. They attend the church more regularly, and gave considerably high rate of tithe and offerings. Apparently, churches with active SG ministries can expect a more generous and spiritual congregation compared to others without such ministry. In the same year 2011, another study was conducted by Hartford Institute for Religion Research and the Leadership Network with 336 mega churches as their respondents. The study found that 82% of the churches indicated that SGs were central to the churches’ strategy of Christian nurture and spiritual formation and that 42% of their members were currently attending SGs (Bird & Thumma, 2011). The total number of church members of these mega churches is nearly 6 million.
The figures stated above reflect the SG ministry trend in the United States. However, the practice of SG ministry has also been successful in other countries such as Indonesia. Although there has never been an official overall study of SGs among the churches in Indonesia, the majority of Protestant and Catholic churches seem to be practicing SGs and cell churches in their congregations.
Swismanto (2012), a theology professor writing on the development of churches in Indonesia, posits that due to the hostility of Muslims towards Christians in many parts of Indonesia, many churches have chosen a unique ecclesiological structure in contrast to a traditional one. He theorized that for the above reason, most of the churches in Indonesia have chosen to be independent churches and are mostly satellite churches, cell churches, and churches of SGs.
Tuhumury (as cited in Karina, 2007) indicated that there has been an explosive growth of SGs in many Christian churches in Indonesia during the last decade. This is seen by the emergence of reports during ecclesiastical meetings, conferences and also in websites. For example, during the Supreme Council of the Catholic Church Indonesia in the year 2000, Suwatan (2000), the Bishop of Manado, emphasized the importance of deploying SGs in the entire diocese in Indonesia for the purpose of prayer and studying the Scriptures.
In the same vein, Comiskey (2005) wrote in his newsletter about the progress of the Abba Love Church in Jakarta. This church had 510 cells in 1999 (Strategic Network, 1999) and in 2005 hosts 1,100 cells with 50 services in 20 locations (para. 1). Another example is the Mawar Sharon Church, established in 1985 by Pastor Jusuf Soetanto. During the last 5 years, this church has become one of the fastest growing Pentecostal churches in Indonesia, and has successfully established itself as an "apostolic and prophetic cell church" (Mawar Sharon Church, 2010, para. 3). Their pastor claimed that he received the vision to become an apostolic and prophetic cell church in 1994. Since then this vision has been applied faithfully in what is called the Connect Group in their churches. Today, the church has established presence in all the major islands of Indonesia.
Similarly, the Gereja Bethel Indonesia, established in 1988 by Pastor Niko Njotorahardjo, is also experiencing an explosion in SGs. According to their website, the church currently hosts 5,763 SGs all around Indonesia. The primary function of their SGs is for nurturing their church members (Gereja Betel Indonesia, 2011).
Looking at the above statistics, it is clear that the SG movement has brought a tremendous change not only in America but in Indonesia as well. It has become a powerful movement that changed the lives of congregations and members of the congregation. This success can be attributed to the leadership of the SG leader (Zigarelli, 2005), the active participation of the SG members (Gladden, 2011), and the workings of the Holy Spirit (Decker & Decker, 2007). Thus, SG ministry in many ways is more than just a movement but it is also a philosophy of ministry that is rooted in a biblical understanding and a sound theological knowledge of God and His church.
In the 1930s, the idea of SGs became increasingly popular in psychological and behavioral sciences. Pioneered by Kurt Lewin, the study on group dynamics sparked a significant interest in the world of social psychology and founded the discipline of organizational development (Salas, Priest, Stagl, Sims, & Burke, 2006).
By mid-1990s SGs became a part of church growth mainstream, where church experts agree that SGs were important for the success and growth of churches (Boren, 2010, p. 19). Hence, various methods, styles and format have been developed and promoted to be practiced in churches’ SG ministry (Icenogle, 1994, p. 11).
Even though research on SGs were intensified in last couple of decades, the idea of using SGs is not new. The history of SGs can be traced from the biblical times, particularly in the house churches portrayed during early church period, according to the book of Acts (Finger, 2007). The Christians had to meet in houses where they ate together while praising God and enjoying the favor of all people (Acts 2:42; 46–47). In fact all New Testament (NT) churches that are recorded in specific locations were in homes, such as Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16), Nympha (Col 4:15), and Philemon. This practice continued among the Christians of the 4th century, during the reformation, post reformation all the way up to now (Plueddemann & Plueddemann, 1990).
In the 1970s missiologists Donald McGavran, Carl George, Ralph Winter, Arthur Glasser, Charles Kraft, Allen Tippett, Peter Wagner, and others introduced to the Evangelical Christian world a new area of study, church growth, under the umbrella of the Church Growth Movement. Headed by McGavran, this movement had an emphasis of missionary work thoroughly combined with social and behavioral science techniques in an effort to disciple all nations (Gibbs, as cited in Kraft, 2005, p. 293).
This movement traces its roots when Donald McGavran in 1965 published his book The Bridges of God, an expansion of an earlier-book Church Growth and Group Conversion in 1935. In his writings McGavran (1980) explained the principles for growing churches that he developed while being a missionary in India. He believed that this would be an effective method for reaching out to people for God. Later on he defined this movement "an enterprise devoted to proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and to persuading men to become His disciples and dependable members of His Church" (p. 26).
Wagner (1976), a student of McGavran, explains that this movement includes everything that is involved in bringing men and women who do not have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ into fellowship with Him and into responsible church membership (p. 12). Therefore, church growth covers such areas as church planting, church diagnosis, assimilation, nurture, spiritual gifts, and SG dynamics (Valleskey, 1990, p. 1). In short, it covers everything that contributes to church growth.
From that point on, church planters have incorporated all of the above elements in planting churches and anticipated success as a result of their labor. Perhaps, all those who have concern for church growth uses this concept of SG ministry.
While the practice of SG can be traced all the way back to the house churches in the New Testament, the science of SG behavior, on the other hand, is a relatively modern development. This science of group behavior was categorized under the sub-discipline of social psychology. This field of study only gained recognition in the early 20th century, to be distinct from sociology or psychology. Therefore, this science is only a bit older than 100 years with most of the growth occurred during the past 50 years (McGarty & Haslam, 1997).
Smith and Mackie (2001) define social psychology as the science that studies the "effects of social and cognitive processes on the way individuals perceive, influence, and relate to others" (p. 1). This scientific field pursues to comprehend the character and reasons which drives individual behavior and thought when put in social situations (Baron, 2006, p. 1). In the course of time, results of studies conducted among groups, big or small, were analyzed and later on experimented to SGs in the church.
The earliest research done in social psychology was focused to learn about the behavior of large and unorganized groups and crowds. The first recognized study was done by Norman Triplett in 1898 when he wrote The Dynamogenic Factors in Peacemaking and Competition (Murray, 1988, p. 386). Later were the studies written by Gustave Le Bon The Crowd (1896) all the way up to William McDougall’s The Group Mind (1920). These were seminal works that studied primarily crowds and groups.
This led to the recognition of the importance of social influence in interpersonal relations. The SGs approach, also called the group dynamics approach, thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. With Kurt Lewin, Robert Freed Bales, and Dorwin Cartwright as the leading researchers, this field of study flourished particularly at universities. University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology became centers for group studies (Fine & Sandstrom, 2006, p. 556). These studies describe how individuals who join groups develop a "group mind" (Salas, Roe-Sepowitz, & LeCroy, 2008, p. 404) and where group process becomes a tool to change behavior in a positive way. Several decades later, the focus on group studies shifted to organized smaller groups.
The term group dynamics was coined by Kurt Lewin which is used to describe the way groups and individuals act and react to circumstances that changes continually (Forsyth, 2010). Lewin’s contribution on group dynamics deepened the understanding of groups and experiential learning.
While SGs have been identified as an important tool for the church, its success largely depends on the effectiveness of the leader. Indeed there may be other factors that contribute to its success, however, the leader factor is one of the most important one. Donahue (2002), director of adult education and training of Willow Creek Association, emphasizes that "every SG ministry needs leaders who are guided by a clear vision and core values" (p. 19). Johnston (2012), a junior pastor at Saddleback Church, adds that "SGs work best when healthy leaders are in place" (para. 2) and that the leaders should also be trained and encouraged, when talking about SGs for youth. Schul (1975), writing from a non-church perspective, suggests that it should only be a healthy leader, but a "special leader—one who helps the group to achieve its purposes and goals and members to grow as a result of these experiences" (p. 137).
Because leadership plays a very important role in the success of an SG, therefore, the selection and training of leaders should be made a priority of the church. Arnold (1998) warns of the danger of churches that are in a hurry to start SGs and make the mistake of seeking out leaders in "a hurried and careless fashion" (p. 45) because he believes that leadership training is imperative. In fact, a leader should not necessarily jump into a leadership position, but should undergo leadership apprenticing in order to create the next generation of leaders (p. 47).
Aside from the selection and training, it is also crucial to understand the leadership behaviors of SG leaders that make the leader a capable and successful. Leadership behaviors or traits are actions exhibited by leaders that form their leadership style. These behaviors will eventually determine the effectiveness of the leader in leading the group to achieve its goals and objectives.
Background of the Study
The SG program done at North Minahasa Conference (NMC) of East Indonesia Union Conference (EIUC) was initiated in 2007 as a part of the Tell the World initiative of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) of the General Conference (GC). According to this evangelistic strategy, there are seven areas that the church’s resources, energies and prayers should be focused on. These areas are (1) Spiritual Growth, (2) Community Involvement, (3) Personal Witness, (4) City Outreach, (5) Church Planting, (6) Evangelistic Programming, and (7) Media Ministry (Adventist News Dispatch, 2005, para. 4). In order to accomplish the goals of the initiatives, the leaders of SSD chose to use SGs because it is considered as the best tool to reach others through personal evangelism, incorporate new members into the church, to nurture them and make them mature disciples, ready to become witnesses for Christ. Aside from the above mentioned reason, SGs can help foster a community that encourages the participation of its members in spiritual development activities, community involvement, personal witnessing, evangelistic programming, fellowship, and building Christian communities.
Promotion of the SG program was initiated by the Sabbath School and Personal Ministries (SS/PM) Department of SSD in 2007. The target audiences for the initial training sessions were the district pastors along with the officers and departmental directors of NMC. The idea was to train all the pastors in NMC to be competent in organizing and implementing a SG so that by the end of the initial training, they are qualified to lead new groups within their churches. The initial training lasted for one week with intensive seminars and workshops conducted by SSD personnel.
After the initial training of the pastors, they established pilot SGs in their local churches mainly consisting of local church leaders. The primary purpose of the pilot groups was to develop capable SG leaders throughout a 3 month period under the leadership of the local church pastor. This training period helped the prospective leaders become more familiar with the SG’s process, dynamics, and eventually acquire the skills to grow new SG leaders that will replicate new SGs. After this period, these leaders were assumed to be properly trained to start new groups within their respective churches. These new groups were to have a group life cycle of 6 months.
Up until that stage, the EIUC administration, through the backing of SSD has actively supported the pilot groups with Bible study materials and other supplies needed by the groups. These materials were printed specifically for the groups’ use through special funds from the SSD. Such materials included Discovery Bible Study Guides and Happy Family Bible Study Guides.
After 6 months, the new groups were expected to have baptismal candidates to be baptized in the SGs’ reaping campaign. Dubbed as Caravan of Hope, this was the culmination of the first stage of SGs in the conference. At the end of the reaping campaign the new groups were then commissioned to multiply into a second generation of SGs, which commenced the birth of SG ministry in the local churches of NMC. Today there are currently 230 SGs in the NMC. With a membership of 16,720 members distributed in 181 churches, these SGs have continued to exist for the past 4 years.
Statement of the Problem
Although functional since the time SGs were introduced in 2007, no assessment has ever been done to determine whether this SG program is addressing the spiritual needs of the local churches and whether it is contributing to the mission of the church at large. The criteria for the SG program to be considered a success is that by the end of each cycle it should show a significant rate of involvement in the Tell the World initiatives and to multiply itself into new groups. More particularly, there was no analysis of the leadership behaviors of the group leaders in creating an effective SG.
Because pastors are required to have an SG ministry operating in their churches or districts, there is a tendency for groups to be formed in a hurry without proper time to train the leader. One of the reasons which might have caused some groups to disappear is probably due to the lack of proper training of the leaders resulting in their ineffectiveness. Also, since the pastors desire to submit good reports to the administrators, there may be a tendency for them to report their Sabbath School classes as SGs. The NMC secretariat records show that there were 230 SGs operating in the churches of the conference.
This study aims to answer the following questions: Are SG leaders exhibiting leadership behaviors that contribute to the effectiveness of SGs? Do leadership behaviors have an impact to the effectiveness of the SGs? Is there an intervention program that can be designed to develop effective SG leaders? More specifically, this study will attempt to find answers to the following research questions:
What are the five predominant dimensions of leadership behaviors of SG leaders in NMC?
What is the status of leadership behavior of SG leaders in NMC?
What is the level of effectiveness of the SGs in NMC as perceived by the respondents?
What are the five predominant dimensions of SG effectiveness?
How do the leadership behaviors of SG leaders relate to the SG effectiveness?
What is the contribution of the demographics of the SG members and the combined leadership behaviors of the SG leaders to the effectiveness of SGs?
What is the proposed program that constitutes an effective SG?
Purpose of the Study
The primary purpose of the study was to identify the leadership behaviors that would be expected from SG leaders and which leadership behaviors actually contribute to the effectiveness of an SG. It focused on 12 leadership behaviors identified in the literature and compared it with five SG effectiveness measurements.
Significance of the Study
This study is significantly beneficial for the church in general by pointing out the specific areas of SGs and its leaders that need improvement. The results of the study will also be valuable to the NMC in particular and EIUC in general as the leaders strive to improve the quality of the program and the training of its leaders. It can also assist the church leaders in creating a program that will train SG leaders which will produce effective SGs.
The pastors of the NMC can also use the findings of the study to identify the weaknesses of the current SG leaders. After identifying the weaknesses, they can formulate a pattern or model a leadership training program that can be replicated by other missions and conferences in the EIUC territory.
Limitation of the Study
The best way to measure the progress and results of an SG ministry program is to spend enough time with the groups using field observation, or personal observation method. By using this method, a researcher will be able to "describe what is going on, who or what is involved, when and where things happen, how they occur, and why" (Jorgensen, 1989, p. 12). However, due to time constraints, such a method was not used; instead the study only relied on a survey questionnaire where a sample or respondents was selected and a standardized questionnaire was administered to the sample population (Babbie, 2007, p. 243).
Scope and Delimitation
This study is based on the SG program done in NMC from the year 2007 to 2011. It will not attempt to go beyond this time frame. Although the EIUC consists of eight missions and conferences, this study is not aimed to evaluate all of them.
It was only be limited to selected SG members and leaders in the NMC, more specifically churches with active SGs. The respondents were purposely selected from churches in the Manado city area, the North Minahasa region and the Bitung city area, to represent the whole conference. Thus, North Maluku island, which is inside the territory of the NMC, is excluded.
The study is limited to studying the leadership behaviors of the SG leaders and the effectiveness of the SGs. The effectiveness of the SGs is measured by the desired outcomes of the Tell the World initiative.
The study also limits the discussion to the leadership behaviors of the SG leaders. While the SG ministry has many other aspects that contribute to its success, this study assumes that an SG leader is the key success of an SG ministry (Donahue, 2002, p. 187).
Methodology and Procedures
The methodological approach employed in this study is basically descriptive (Vyhmeister, 2009) and empirical in nature. The methods that were applied to this project are as described below:
Bibliography method. This was used in the literature review to establish the biblical and theoretical foundations for the project.
Purposive sampling. This sampling method was employed based on the researcher’s "judgment of what elements will facilitate investigation" (Adler & Clark, 2010, p. 123) and because only a selected number of the population was studied to represent the total population (Engel & Schutt, 2009, p. 96).
Survey. A questionnaire on the expectations of an SG’s leader behavior was distributed among SG members in churches. The primary purpose of the questionnaire is to measure the leadership behaviors that the members of the SGs perceive are exhibited by leaders.
Statistical analysis. The results of the questionnaire were encoded to SPSS statistical software to analyze the results. It also employs descriptive statistics and correlational tests in order to interpret the data.
The structure of the study is organized according to the description below.
Chapter 1 serves as an introduction. It provides an introductory description of the study. It contains the background of the study, statement of the problem, significance of the study, scope and delimitation, methodology and procedures and basic assumptions.
Chapter 2 is the literature review which looks at the different writings that explain the importance of SG ministry in the church more specifically how SG leaders’ behaviors affect the group itself. First it looks at the biblical foundations of SGs and leadership in SGs by examining images of SGs in the Old and New Testament. Then it shows how social psychology impacted the development of SG ministry in the church and how social learning theories have influenced SGs. In the same vein, this chapter also looks at the descriptions of expected behaviors of the SG leader and the characteristics of effective SGs. Finally, this chapter reviews the different theories and concepts of SGs used in various church denominations that have shown considerable success. This portion of the study, provide the variables which is used to measure the effectiveness of the SG ministry program.
Chapter 3 describes the demographics of North Minahasa as it relates to the NMC. It provides a brief introduction of Indonesia and how the religion, history, and culture have influenced the people in Minahasa. It also gives a bird’s eye view of the characteristics of the Minahasa people in general. This chapter traces the origins of SG ministry in North Minahasa; when and how it started; the number of SGs that were formed; and the impact it brought to the church. It also shows the contributing factors that might have affected the SG ministry, they are (1) leadership role of pastors and group leaders; (3) socio-cultural issues; (4) religious factors; and (4) the educational and training factors. These factors proved critical to the SG program. Finally, this chapter also shows how SG ministry impacted the church in the areas of spiritual life, social interaction, nurture and church growth.
Chapter 4 reports on the survey done among the SG ministry participants in NMC. It provides the statistical analysis of the survey based on the data collected, which determines the effectiveness of the program. This chapter then presents a modified strategy of SG ministry that will be most effective to the churches in NMC.
Chapter 5 describes the proposed program to be used in training SG leaders. This chapter provides a description of the program, the objectives of the program, the organizational structure, the people involved in the program, and the curriculum to be used in the program.
Chapter 6 provides the summary and conclusion of the study as well as recommendations for changes or modifications to the program, in order to have an effective SG ministry in the NMC. The program is proposed in an outline form, instead of a complete program since the primary purpose is not program development.
Basic Assumptions
The following assumptions were accepted as basic to the study. First, the Bible is inspired by God and is an infallible revelation of His will. Therefore, the Bible becomes the highest authority of His children and is the standard for all kinds of theologies and strategies. A biblical foundation for SG ministry is important in defining SG ministry and SG leadership.
Second, the research design employed was appropriate for the study and that survey instrument used in the study was valid and reliable. It is also assumed that the respondents understand the nature of the study and that they were honest in their answers or responses.
Third, the four years of operation of the SGs is not sufficient enough to determine whether the overall program was a success or failure. Thus, this study is not aimed to put a verdict on the SG program, however it aimed to analyze the leadership behaviors of SG leaders. It is understood that SG ministry is dynamic; hence a fair amount of time to determine its success or failure should be a minimum of ten years.
Definition of Terms
Seventh-day Adventist, commonly abbreviated Adventist is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday as the holy Sabbath day and its beliefs which are rooted in the Holy Scriptures.
General Conference is the highest level of organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church which functions as the governing organization. It consists of divisions with administrative responsibility for particular geographical areas.
Southern Asia-Pacific Division refers to one of the 13 divisions of the General Conference and is responsible for the following countries: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.
East Indonesia Union Conference refers to one of the two unions in Indonesia with headquarters in Manado, North Sulawesi. A union is made up of missions, conferences or fields within a larger territory.
North Minahasa Conference refers to one of the missions and conferences in East Indonesia Union Conference, which is made up of several churches in several provinces in the eastern part of Indonesia.
Tell the World Initiative refers to the program, which is an evangelistic strategy, initiated by the General Conference to be implemented to all levels of the organization: divisions, unions, and missions/conferences/fields.
Small Groups refers to the method chosen to involve the participation of the church members in accomplishing the Tell the World initiatives. A small group will normally consist of six to twelve members who meet once a week for a group meeting. The group meeting is a short program which puts an emphasis on Bible study and fellowship as part of building Christian community.

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