Are MicroChurches Just Small Groups with a Different Name?

February 15, 2022

Back in the early 2000s, leaders began traveling from all over the world to join us in Tacoma, Washington to engage in a full immersion learning experience we called Soma School. We had been piloting Missional Communities for several years and had found significant success in missional living and disciple-making practices. We discovered over time that many people had concluded that a Missional Community was no different than a small group or a community group. Over time we learned we needed to clarify how different they actually are.

MicroChurch is at the fore-front of the conversation for many in light of the changing cultural landscape we find ourselves in…

In our present moment, MicroChurch is at the fore-front of the conversation for many in light of the changing cultural landscape we find ourselves in, coupled with the ongoing deconstruction and reform back to what many believe is a return to a more biblically faithful expression of church. Call it Missional Community or MicroChurch (MCs for short in this article), there really is a big difference between typical small groups and MCs. 

First, those committed to MCs believe MCs are the most irreducible form of church, whereas most small groups are considered a program or part of the local church but not a church in themselves. Similar to the church in Pricilla or Aquilla’s house (Rom, 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19) or the church in Nympha’s house (Col. 4:15), MCs see themselves as the church in a particular place with a particular people.

“What about the gathering together in a larger group?” some have asked. “Do MCs gather in a regular gathering?” The answer is generally yes but in a variety of rhythms and forms. The reason for gathering is a second distinction made between small groups and MCs. In most churches, the gathering is central and small groups serve as the connection strategy. Since the gathering is too big to really experience the one anothers, deeper community, and the practice of spiritual gifts, small groups provide the place to experience and express these very important realities of church life together.

For some churches, the most important reason for small groups is retention. It’s the way to close the “back door” of the church so the church gathering can continue to grow bigger in attendance. On the other hand, the goal for bringing MCs together for a larger gathering is not to grow a larger gathering but to encourage one another toward ongoing good works in everyday life (Heb. 10:24-25) and to equip for ongoing ministry through an equipping team (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers) leading to each disciple and MC expressing the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13).

In light of that goal, small groups often attempt to fulfill one or two aspects of Christ. For example, some small groups primarily express the teacher aspect of Christ through doing a Bible study or sermon discussion (teacher). Other small groups express more of the shepherd aspect of Jesus by becoming primarily a care group. Some express the more prophetic aspect of Jesus through works of mercy and service. At times you see more than one of these expressed in a small group. However, MCs aim to not only express the shepherd, teacher and prophet aspects of Christ but also Christ as evangelist and apostle as they look to love and reach the lost and multiply and send new MCs as an extension of the church into new places.

And finally, a clear distinction between small groups and MCs can be seen in the administration of the sacraments. In most churches, baptism and Lord’s Supper are limited to the larger gatherings and administered by centralized leadership.  Whereas most MCs administer these sacraments in their homes and neighborhoods embracing the priesthood of the believers to the fullest expression of being the church together.

Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt

As the Executive Director of Saturate and founding leader of the Soma Family of Churches, Jeff Vanderstelt gets to spend his days doing what he loves – mentoring leaders and equipping the Church in the gospel and missional living. Additionally, Jeff is on the leadership team of Saturate the Sound, a local church collective focused on gospel saturation in the Puget Sound. Jeff has authored Saturate, Gospel Fluency, and Making Space. He and Jayne, his wife, have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie. Connect with Jeff on twitter and instagram @JeffVanderstelt.
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