Ed Stetzer has a great opinion piece here advocating that small groups are key to studying and understanding Scripture.
... we have a biblical literacy problem. Americans, including churchgoers, aren't reading much of any book, including the Good Book.
... But it's more than simply not knowing stories from Scripture. Our lack of biblical literacy has led to a lack of biblical doctrine. LifeWay Research found that while 67 percent of Americans believe heaven is a real place, 45 percent believe there are many ways to get there—including 1 in 5 evangelical Christians. More than half of evangelicals (59 percent) believe the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being—in contrast to the orthodox biblical teaching of the Trinity being three Persons in one God. As a whole, Americans, including many Christians, hold unbiblical views on hell, sin, salvation, Jesus, humanity, and the Bible itself.
... so how do we get people to pull the Bible off their bookshelves and put it into their lives? The research we've done indicates that several factors lead to a higher likelihood of someone engaging the Bible. In this case, we mean they will allow God, through his Word, to lead and change their life. Here are the eight predictors of biblical engagement:
- Confessing sins and wrongdoings to God and asking for forgiveness
- Following Jesus Christ for years
- Being willing to obey God, no matter the cost
- Praying for the spiritual status of unbelievers
- Reading a book about increasing spiritual growth
- Being discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian
- Memorizing Bible verses
- Attending a small group focused on Bible study
As part of the research for Transformational Groups, which I coauthored with Eric Geiger, we surveyed regular group attenders and non-group attenders about their daily spiritual lives—specifically the time they spend outside of church and church-related activities. We found that group attenders were much more likely than non-group members to read their Bible regularly—67 percent compared to only 27 percent. Being involved in a small group made it more than twice as likely a Christian would be regularly reading God's Word.
On top of that, we found involvement in small groups made Christians more likely to pray for others and confess sins to God—both of which are predictors of biblical engagement. It's no wonder we concluded quite simply: groups matter.
It doesn't matter what you call small groups within your church community—life groups, Sunday school, discipleship classes, Bible study fellowships—the importance of them remains the same. It's impossible to make disciples apart from community. Groups might not be the only place transformation happens, but I'm convinced they're the primary place.