What Does Your Church’s Group Name Communicate?

Assimilation is five times more effective if a person is involved in a group versus attending worship only.

Read that first statement carefully. It is huge! Church leaders should be spending significant amounts of time focusing on groups. They are too important to ignore.

But there are so many different names for groups in churches. I am not smart enough to know what the best label is for a church. So I asked many different people, both in church and out of church, what came to mind when I mentioned a group name. Here are the results of my informal survey:

  1. Small groups. This name had the most ambiguous perceptions of those I surveyed. That most common response they had to this label was, “What kind of small group?”
  2. Sunday school. This label is one of the longest standing names of church groups. All respondents had their own clear perceptions about this name. For the majority, the name connotes a traditional on-campus, content-driven group for all ages. For a minority of the respondents, it referred to classes for children only.
  3. Life groups. There was hardly any mention of content connected to life groups. The general perception was these groups are more about developing relationships, sharing feelings, and dealing with life issues. Some of the respondents were surprised when I told them many life groups study the Bible as well.
  4. Community groups. This name evoked two distinct and different responses. One group immediately connected community groups as an outwardly-focused group. In other words, the groups’ purpose was to connect with the community around them. But another group saw community groups as inwardly-focused. Their primary purpose for existence was to build community within the group.
  5. Home groups. I confess that these responses surprised me. Home groups were perceived to be loosely connected to the church, if connected at all. There was a sense that these groups had the lowest level of accountability to the church of which it was a part.
  6. Bible study groups. There were no surprises here. This name meant content-driven groups. Some of the respondents even thought there was no intentionality of community in these groups. Even other respondents perceived these groups to be large, much like a master class.
  7. Fellowship groups. If Bible study groups communicated content, fellowship groups communicated little to no content. This group was perceived to be about bringing people together for conversation and relationship building.

Again, let me remind you that these seven categories represent perceptions of group names, even though the perceptions might not align with reality. The takeaway I got from this exercise is that churches should both name and describe their groups in all of their promotional resources. The danger of misperception is present and real.

What is the name or names of groups in your church? What do you think of these perceptions? Let me hear from you.

Posted on October 7, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Rachel Stephens says on


    I was wondering what the statistical analysis of this study looked like, especially the number of people surveyed and the percentages of answers.

    If this does not link to the page I am on, I am looking through the page “What Does Your Church’s Group Name Communicate?”

  • Patrick Thompson says on

    In doing Sunday School for adults, is it better to always use the church curriculum or should the teaching come directly from the Bible, as long as the teacher is able to use the Bible effectively because of experience. I am almost finished with my ThD., not that it matters, but I have been teaching the Bible effectively for years with great response. However, now I find myself having to teach from the A.G. curriculum because our Pastor’s wife wants all classes teaching from it. I’m making the best of it, but frustrated that any curriculum could be better than teaching the Bible in an expository manner.

  • We are a small congregation that is looking to implement an intentional small group ministry. We would like to gain feedback from the congregation on their interest and commitment to such a ministry. Do you have any resources that include a helpful survey or questionnaire? Thanks for your insight.

  • We call ours “Discipleship Groups” or D-Groups because each group is intentionally formed for accountability, to grow in faith-character-skills, to equip and train each member of the group to be a Discipler who will lead their own D-Group as well. This process should continue multiplying Disciplers.

    As Jesus commissioned us to make Disciples so we highly encourage each member of the church to be part of a D-Group so they may fulfill this Great Commission.

  • We have groups/names designated by purpose.
    B-Group (Big)
    Corporate Worship
    C-Group (Connect)
    A place to connect visitors on
    D-Group (discipleship)
    See Growing Up by Gallaty
    Meet in open community settings so public can see what Christianity looks like.
    E-Group (Evangelistic)
    Community outreach in homes or public gathering places

  • We just changed the name from Life Groups to Connect Groups and relaunched with a 3-fold mission: connect to God, connect to each other and connect out in the community.

    Connect to God. Connect to each other. Live on Mission.

  • David Francis, who works for Lifeway, did a study of the same churches Thom Rainer cited in his book “Simple Church”. He found that more than 75% of those churches (growing churches, I might add) still use Sunday School, and half of them still CALL it “Sunday School”.

    The truth is, most Sunday School leaders have forgotten the original purpose of Sunday School. If it functions in the way it was intended to function (as a means of both outreach and Bible study), it doesn’t matter what you call it. If it strays from that purpose, it still doesn’t matter what you call it.

  • What about discipleship groups?

    We call outs Life Groups for two reasons: it ties into our church name (City Life Church) and our purpose with Bible study is to discover how it is applicable to life. Each group meeting goes through a simple ABC: Accountability, Bible engagement, and Care. Our groups have proven to be highly reproducible and some untrained group members will even have discussions with coworkers or family members using the ABCs. We are a really small church plant in Queens but our emphasis on Life Groups has been fruitful. In the future we hope to organize several life groups into City Groups that will be geographically targeted for missional emphasis.

    By the way, if we didn’t use LG to describe our groups we would probably use discipleship groups or growth groups simply to communicate the purpose. I’d also like to know what people think of missional communities.

    • Nathan,
      I like your strategy. I am implementing some changes in a revitalization. We could never disolve Sunday school at this point so this would be applied to the traditional small groups meeting in homes for the most part.

      Thanks for the thoughts.

  • We use “City Groups” at our church. We try to live throughout the week as an extended family seeking to bless and gospelize a particular group of people. My city group is focused on blessing and gospelizing all the neighbors on my street. We meet weekly for a meal and sharing with each other (sometimes study, stories, or the like) and we talk about ways to bless and engage our neighbors.

    This is also akin to “missional community” but I want our church members thinking of our local church as their primary “community.”

  • Dale Porter says on

    I don’t have anything to add but would like to comment on the information shared in reference to Sunday School. I am supervising that segment of our local church ministry and I have seen through various correspondence the process of changing the name of Sunday School as mentioned in this blog. This blog shared that changing the name may be helpful but it is the mission of Sunday School is to study God’s Word and to lead souls to Christ. It helped me with some of the concerns that I have been struggling with for months.

  • Initially the Journey’s groups were called “life teams.” But about a year the name was changed to “small groups.” Hope Church’s groups were called “family groups.” This name was perhaps misleading since these groups included singles and solo parents as well as married couples. The idea behind the choice of name was that the people in the group would bond together like a family and the group would take the place of extended family for those who did not have an extended family.

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