iBelong : using sermon-based small groups as a catalyst for building healthy relationships that promote community and member retention.

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


The iBelong project was designed to address the problem of revolving door membership within The Temple of Refuge Church in Charlotte, NC. The project will reveal that there is a correlation between church member retention and friendships/relationships within the same church congregation. Although in general, people maintain their church membership if they feel their spiritual needs are being met, I contend that friends who attend the same church are more than likely to maintain their membership because of meaningful relationships with those of the same church and faith. Small Group Ministry was introduced and implemented into the ministry life of the church as an incubator to develop and sustain healthy relationships as a means to combat member retention. Five sermons were designed and preached on Sundays around themes of belonging, community and relationships. Small Group curriculum was then developed from those messages for group discussion, which reinforced the messages preached, as well as provided a means of togetherness within the groups. One of the surveys conducted at the church revealed that over 43% of those surveyed cited the importance of friends at the church being a major contributor in their affiliation with the church. The project was designed with the intent of using the power of healthy relationships and friendships as a positive influence on membership. For this project a team of laypeople from within the ministry were brought together to assist in gathering some of the stories before, during and after the project implementation. This project exposes the value of relationships within The Temple of Refuge Church membership, and the role that those relationships play in the growth of the church as well as membership stability. The primary challenges that we are confronted with at The Temple of Refuge was not just moving people into membership, but creating an environment where relationships within the church could form and in turn produce belonging among the body. One of the greatest threats to accomplishing this task is the present culture in which we live that promotes independence and self-worth more than a commitment of togetherness. The sermons preached for the project, as well as the Small group lessons were formulated to combat the spirit of independence that is so pervasive in our world today, and has very much crept into the church. Genesis introduces us to a God who is very much relational and created us for relationship and belonging. The early church in the book of Acts reveals a faith community who were very much connected in a bond of oneness that promoted growth and stability of that thriving body of believers. The Apostle Paul further shares the importance of body unity and connectivity with each part of the body vital to the function of the overall body. The analysis of surveys and other data collected revealed the budding of new relationships, the strengthening of existing friendships and the development of an environment of belonging that produced cohesion in the church.