Small groups are a linchpin for ministry to Millennials

“I started going to growth groups here, and that fueled my faith like never before,” says Jackie Torres, a 29-year-old member of St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis. “Finding people who wanted to talk about Jesus was awesome as well as seeing firsthand how fellow Christians would filter their lives through what God says. And to dive deeper into his Word and become a closer community of Christians is such a powerful thing.”  

James Hein, a pastor at St. Marcus, says that Torres is a good example of a Millennial—someone who was born from 1980–1995. “Millennials are looking for close relationships,” says Hein. “We try to ensure that small group ministries are an essential part of the St. Marcus culture. We currently have 12 to 15 small groups running, and virtually all of our leadership comes from and is involved in these small, relational study groups.”  

Hein himself prepares the material for most of these groups, often based off of the previous Sunday’s sermon. A lay facilitator then presents the material to the group and helps group members work through it. Usually these groups meet in members’ homes over a meal, but they can also meet in coffee shops or bars. The location is not as important as the relationships that are built as members get to know one another and share life experiences with each other.  

As Hein notes, “Small groups play an enormous part in peer-to-peer relational ministry. If you look at the design of the average sanctuary, all pews or seats are facing one direction. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s not horizontally relational. Therefore, your congregation needs to intentionally provide spaces where people face one another. Small groups are when people gather around the Word facing one another. It creates a transparent dialogue in which people can share struggles, confess sins, receive encouragement, and grow together as they’re growing in Christ. Not having a robust small groups system is not an option for churches that desire any sort of dynamic Millennial ministry.” 

Torres agrees. “I attended a growth group at a friend’s house soon after I joined St. Marcus, and now I lead one with my fiancé. We get the opportunity to have real conversations about faith and how to put it into action in our lives in a like-minded Christian community. I depend on it.” 

Luke Thompson, who serves as a pastor at St. Paul, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, puts it this way: “Consider Jesus’ ministry. We know he spent three years preaching and teaching, but what did that look like? Dinner parties. And lots of them. In fact, one of the chief attacks against Jesus was that he was eating with the wrong sorts of people. In other words, he was building meaningful relationships and friendships in the best way possible—over a meal. He was breaking through the devices that caused loneliness in his own time, often-times showing people the heart of God by befriending them. And he invites us to do this today.”  

Ministering to Millennials 

WELS Congregational Services offers training materials on a wide variety of ministry topics at Four videos with accompanying discussion guides are available on the topic of “Ministering to Millennials.” A “Ministering to Millennials” playbook also details 10 important ministry behaviors for congregations to consider as they reach out to this age group.

Visit, choose the “Modules” dropdown menu, and then choose “Discipleship Modules.” 


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Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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