Why Do Small Groups Matter in Larger Churches?

By Warren Bird

Churches grow larger by getting smaller. That’s one of many findings in a survey of some 25,000 megachurch attenders that fellow researcher Scott Thumma and I conducted, writing Not Who You Think They Are (free download) to highlight our findings.

One of the key points: large churches are very intentional about helping people find their identity in some kind of group or team. Some 60% of attenders say they are involved in one or more groups (see graphic), a percentage that’s growing. In an earlier survey back in 2000, just half (50%) of the megachurches said small groups were central to their strategy for Christian nurture and spiritual formation. By 2008, that number had risen to a strong majority (84%) of megachurches affirming the centrality of a small group strategy.

What type of group draws the most participants? Religious education and spiritual growth groups attracted approximately a quarter of megachurch attenders, while service, recovery and fellowship type small groups accounted for no more than 10% to 20% of attenders.


Broadening the question, when megachurch attenders were asked how much their faith had grown in the past year, 62% said they experienced “much spiritual growth,” with 42% attributing that growth directly to their involvement in the church. Comparing all sizes of churches, megachurches fare slightly better, where only 58% of attenders claim “much spiritual growth,” while 39% attributing that to their churches directly.


Another sign of spiritual fulfillment is a person’s rate of inviting others to the church. Generally speaking, if church attenders do not feel enthusiastic about their church or their spiritual experience at that congregation, they are less likely to invite others to participate. A strong majority of megachurch attenders (82%) come at the invitation of a friend, family member or co-worker. Just under 20% of attenders found the megachurch of their own accord, either as a result of just seeing the church or viewing media about the church.


These findings are encouraging for the more than 5 million North Americans who found their way to a megachurch this past weekend — that if they want to grow spiritually, there are pathways for them to do so.

Learn More about Megachurch Attenders

For other blogs in this series see “9 Fascinating Facts About People Who Attend Megachurches,” “Not a Boomer Phenomenon: Megachurches Draw Twice as Many Under 45” and “Global Megachurches” (in this latter blog, scroll down to “FAQs about North American Churches”).