Small Groups with a Big Vision

August 22, 2023

“The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who can not err,” wrote Ellen G. White in the August 15, 1902, issue of the Australasian Union Conference Record. “If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers also.”

This small group model is being encouraged in the Southwestern Union under the leadership of Tony Anobile, vice president for church ministries, and Osvaldo Rigacci, vice president for multicultural ministries. Both believe that small groups are at the core of a church’s success for growth and survival. “We want every member to be involved in making a difference,” says Anobile. “A small group allows you to do that.”

Rigacci says he can see the difference that involvement makes in a member’s church commitment and spiritual life. “You can see the energy that transpires in the experience of the small group,” says Rigacci. “They feel like they have a purpose, a goal.”

Small groups done right provide spiritual and social support and serve as an avenue for outreach. “Small groups are a tool for evangelism,” says Rigacci, “because participants invite friends, neighbors and family to group meetings.” The small group vision is that, as the group grows, it divides into two groups that continue to grow until they, too, divide. Some small groups have been so successful they have even resulted in church plants.

“The beauty of a small group is that some people who are hesitant to come to church will come to their neighbor’s home,” says Anobile. Another advantage is that the less-structured format is appealing to young adults and others who aren’t comfortable with formality.

The small group model has been used in South and Central America for years. In part, this has been out of necessity, as many communities have one pastor for multiple churches. The results, however, have been hard to ignore. The South American Division had 175,855 baptisms in 2021. The Inter-American Division had 124,047. The North American Division had 20,266.

Perhaps due to the familiarity of the small group model of ministry in Central and South America, the vast majority of the churches that operate small groups within the Southwestern Union are Spanish-speaking churches.

To encourage an increased focus on small groups in both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking churches, the Southwestern Union has put together free kits on how to start a small group. The kit for Spanish speakers is called VIDA GPS, and the kit for English Speakers is called LIFE HSG. To request a kit, contact the Church Ministries office at 817.295.0476.

By Lori Futcher
Record Writer