As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)
Warning! The Spirit General has determined that Small Groups are detrimental to your complacency (self-satisfied versus Christ-satisfied)!
Proverbs 25:12; 27:17; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-16
The Small Group is the prime platform for establishing and instilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission that Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 12:29-31. The Small Group is also the vehicle with which to develop and experience authentic relationships and growing discipleship. This builds a Church of authentic community, poured out to His precepts and being in relational intimacy and fullness in Him. This is what we are called to emulate from our Lord. Because people will be learning and growing, they will move from personal agendas and pride to growth and service to our Lord. This produces a supportive environment that has love and care, hospitality, and the Spirit impacting the people. This will then foster the engagement of the community and world for the Gospel.
However, heed this warning! People will fight you; it will take work and effort, and at times you may think of giving up, but do not! He is with you and He will empower you, but you have to work for it, too!
If you do not want to work and put forth the effort, if you just want a nice club, a place where the people can easily be manipulated and controlled, if you want a place to rule and to spur on your personal power and yoke, do not have Small Groups in your church! Because, a Small Group is where the Lord is at work, and you do not want Christ getting His Way in the way of your personal agenda and pride! Satire aside; for Small Groups to work, you must be willing and able to let Christ truly work in you personally and your church collectively! This will conquer complacency and move us from being self-satisfied to being Christ-satisfied. Then, allowing Him to further conquer our fears and pride will enable us to move onward to spiritual maturity. A Small Groups is the best vehicle to do this along with our personal Bible reading, devotions, and prayer time. Small Groups will take what we have learned in our quiet time, then add to it, hone it, sharpen it, pressure cook it, and then release it into service and community.
Think about this point: How do we live the Christian life? How do we apply His precepts? In First Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells us to follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. We are called to be people who learn of His Word and impart that knowledge to others (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:4-14). But, most of us live in a culture that fosters isolation, personal pride, loneliness, individualistic mindsets, hedonism, suspicion, distrust, and the fear of being vulnerable. Thus, we have to put forth an effort to live the Christian life! In over 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have found no better way to take what we learn from the church and Word and work it out in our hearts and minds and make an application with it than in Small Groups! Small Groups are essential and necessary in building supportive and meaningful relationships and Bible learning, and they must be a part of every church who seeks to know our Lord and make Him known. This helps create a church of real purpose-God's purpose-that is, one of dependence on God and the independence of one another. Without Small Groups, we will fall far short of learning and applying His precepts into our lives and community. We will have a church that is fragmented, disconnected, isolated, and meaningless!
So, why are there not more churches doing this? Is it just because it is a lot of work and there may be resentments and hesitations? Actually, because Small Groups can be scary, people will start to grow; and, those who are not growing, especially some pastors and church leaders, will become fearful and fight against them. These are the people who will give the most resistance! Personal agendas will be challenged and the godly life will transpire along with His purposes running the Church. This is what we are called to: however, our sinful nature gets in the way of His Way! Christ usually does not force Himself, so we continue in our pride when we could have had abundantly more in Him! Small Groups can also be dangerous as they denote alteration in the typical way people "do" their church, and may go against some traditions and mindsets that do not embrace change or conviction. The enemy to Small Groups is our complacency. Complacency is like pride; it hates being impacted by the Spirit and detests the application of Christian living. Small Groups will kick the complacency out; make sure you want it out. You and your church cannot grow spiritually until you want to, and you put the effort into it (Acts. 2:46-47)! Small Groups are the way to grow your church in Him!
What is a Small Group?
The definition of a Small Group can vary, too, as many Small Groups are out there. A Small Group characteristically is a group of committed people who come together on a regular basis for a specific function-that of the growth and discovery of God's precepts from His Word. The basic idea is a group of people, from three to 12 in number, who come together for connection in theirfaith building and fellowship. This can also include accountability, recovery, evangelistic, discipleship, and various other learning and personal need groups. The effective Small Group will always have an open Bible, have committed prayer, and the attitude of care for the people who are there! Small Groups can be the "rubber that meets the road" of the ministry of your church and community!
We all need to have encouragement, connection, advice, and support from a community of Believers who are growing in Him. It should be a place to reflect on our life and situation, build community, encourage accountability, study the Bible and learn to apply it, pray for others, and reach out to the world around us. Thus learning to do life together, receive care, discipleship, and learning, and learn about the ways of God through the Bible and prayer will build us up as individuals and as a church. Faith must inspire us before we can do outreach effectively (Matt. 4:18-19)! Small Groups are geared to provide all church members a rewarding benefit from their experiences in the church, and that benefit is their growth and maturity in Him that translates into character and to outreach as His witness!
How they benefit the Church
Do you have a church that is so big it is not meeting the needs of its members? Perhaps your church has magnificent worship and impacting teaching; that is why you came, but you feel disconnected. Perhaps you feel your church is too small and see no opportunities there but you feel you are cared for there. Maybe your church is too small because it is stagnating and that is why it is not growing. Is your church just right but something is missing? Then, the answer is Small Groups. Small Groups answer the question, how do I grow in Christ and grow my church? We grow by growing in Him! Small Groups become the hub of learning,care, outreach, discipleship, and lead in nurturing, encouraging, and spiritual formation.
The Church needs to emphasize Small Groups as an essential primary ministry. Why? Because, Small Groups help fill you with His awe and wonder (Acts 2:42-47). Jesus Himself was in a Small Group of twelve. The Church got its start in Acts from Small Groups. This is how our Lord chose to model ministry personally and to launch His Church. The early church devoted themselves to Jesus' teaching and to one another. It was the Small Group where the Spirit impacted people and empowered them for ministry. It was the Small Groups where community and function were formed, even before the persecution came. The Lord blessed then and used them; we have no excuse not to. The Church, your church, must have Small Groups at its core; not a few here and there, but all encompassing for all stages of life and ministry, from youth to the elderly. If you want to grow your church in spiritual maturity (which is far more important than growing numerically, but usually creates numerical growth, too), Small Groups are the way to go if you want to grow your church membership and worship; you have to have spiritual maturity and a place to invite the people in, and, as Acts tells us, He added to their number!
The people in your church live in a disconnected and stress filled world. Relationships are few and fragile and His Word is rarely applied. Without Small Groups, you cannot effectively grow your church or effectively or efficiently care for your people. Your church will not have depth, maturity, or much community impact without the caring, prayers, and support of its people. A pastor and/or staff cannot effectively meet the needs of all of the people. A pastor must train and equip others; this is what lay ministry is all about. Ministry and relationships form and accumulate best in Small Groups. When people are hurting, need direction, or can help others, it comes from the Small Group. Ministry and impacting the neighborhood comes from the Small Group. Your church will grow and be used by God through the Small Group. Small Groups are not to replace the church's worship and teaching; rather, they are the participants and conventioneers of the church. Consider a church a convention of Small Groups united for prayer, worship, instruction, the proclamation of His Word, and synergistic ministry. Your church is called to make Small Groups!
The biggest reason why people do not join Small Groups is because they are fearful. Being vulnerable to people who may intentionally or unintentionally betray you is very scary. For some, it is scary to meet new people, go to a stranger's house, or take the time to make such a commitment. In addition, to share your life and woes with a stranger or to be afraid that you may not know the answers and look stupid in front of others is threatening. But, we have to get over our fears and embrace the community. We do not need to know the answers, but we are to be willing to discover them. When we share with others, we commune and grow tighter and together, building community and effectual relationships. Yes, people will hurt you, and you will hurt others. But, we still need one another; we need forgiveness, to be willing to forgive others, and to be open and vulnerable. This is a must to growing in faith. The main hurdle is YOU, and your willingness to more deeply pursue your faith and your relationships. We need one another to grow further in the faith!
To be successful in a Small Group, the participants need to know that we are created from community for community by a triune God. As Christians, we are called to know one another. Just look up "one another" in a concordance and see all of the passages listed. We are made for community; we need community. But, that does not mean it will just magically function. We all have to put in the effort and take the risks. Once you are willing to take the risks, then the time, commitment, and effort to press on will become easier as you see the benefits outweighing your fears. A good program of introducing Small Groups by easing people in them with testimonies and demonstration in a safe environment will help alleviate these fears.
Types of Small Groups
Whether you call them home fellowship groups, home groups, Alpha Groups, Beta Groups, community groups, encounter groups, Lighthouses, Life Groups, Kinship groups, share groups, growth groups, His groups, home Bible studies or discipleship groups, they all are places to come together for learning, worship, prayer, encouragement, accountability, celebration, personal support, fellowship, and community building. There is no set formula, schedule, or singular purpose. A Small Group is a place to learn and grow and to equip and be equipped to glorify our Lord. It is a place to learn and build relationships. It is a place to know, understand, experience, and to share love and joy. It is a place to learn and develop character. It is a place to prepare and help prepare others for His service. However, it is my opinion that a Small Group without a Bible is just a club with no distinction or purpose and no real way to grow. A Small Group can use other books, articles, and curriculum, or just talk about your day; but, at some point, the Bible must be opened and His Word must be engaged. His redemptive plan must impact you! The bottom line is that a Small Group is a place to know Christ and one another (Acts 1:12-14; 2:1-4).
Small Groups have no set time, place, or duration. They can meet for periods of a few weeks to being permanent fellowships. I have seen groups last just a few sessions and they dissolve while others have been meeting for over thirty years regularly and consistently. They can meet weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, although the more consistent you are, the more you will get out of it. Small Groups best meet in people's homes that are comfortable and inviting; this helps people's learning and attitude, and gives the opportunity to invite people who would not normally come to a church.
Small Groups have no set number of participants, although the optimal number is dependent on the personalities and goals of the participants. The numbers I have found to be best over the years is from four to 10, seven being the prime. For Jesus, it was 12 (Mark 3:13-14). A Small Group can range from three to twelve to hundreds of people. The big groups of over 20 to 2000, to be real Small Groups, meet corporately for worship and instruction, and then section themselves off into groups of five to 10 for deeper learning, prayer, and application. Small Groups timing can be any day or time when the participants are available. You can meet for an hour, an hour and a half, two hours, every week, every other week, or once a month. You can meet at church, an office, the library (get permission), at a coffee house, or restaurant. But, it is always best to meet at a home. You can just have fellowship and a topic study, or also incorporate worship, Bible study, and outreach.
Who is supposed to be in the Small Groups? Pastors? Church leaders? Deacons? Elders? Only the spiritually mature? Only for new Christians? The answer is everyone who claims Jesus as Lord should and must be in a Small Group or Bible study, and people who do not know the Lord should be in a Small Group, for that is the best way to continue and grow in the faith. It is a means to reach your full potential, growth, maturity, share the faith, and be better used by our Lord!
Some of the Main types of Small Groups (Ecclesiastes. 4:9; 4:12):
Bible Study Groups: Doing the Bible together: This would be Bible-centered Small Groups where learning the Word and instructive discipleship is the core. The benefit is being able to grow beyond personal learning by asking questions to learn, hear from others, participate in the text, see God's Word being worked out in the lives of others, interaction to take your knowledge into a deeper level, deepen your love for the Lord and one another, intensify your worship, handle life better, share your insights with others, and be challenged to grow and apply your faith to life. These groups can go though a book of the Bible, explore topical subjects, do inductive study, discuss the sermon, or even read a Christian book, as long as the Bible is the foundation.
Accountability Groups: Keeping one another in line to His precepts and call. The main focus of accountability-centered Small Groups is to provide a place to build relationships and be honed by one another. The benefit is being able to interact with others and keep one another on track, to sharpen yourself, and to internalize what you have learned into daily life so God can use you to sharpen others. These groups work best as gender specific, such as women's or men's groups. Also, mentoring groups fall in this category of older people discipling the younger.
Life Groups: Doing life together. Share, learn, care, and prayer! The primary function is relational-how do I deal with life? How do I learn and grow by learning His Word and allowing others to help me encounter Christ and one another? The benefit is being able to share your life, learn from the experiences and encounters with God others have had, and to feel a part of God's family. This model is excellent for new Christians starting off. It is also excellent for mature Christians desiring to grow further and be further challenged! This type of group works best as a mentoring model for two to five people. Six is too many; when you hit six, then start a new one. This type of group can meet as a large group for worship and a short Bible study then partition off into constant smaller groups of two to four. The consistency of who is in each group to build communality and openness is very important.
I first saw this model over twenty years ago and have since seen it in various forms and acronyms for the name, such as: Living In Faith Experiences and Learning Biblical Truth, Intercession, Fellowship, Extending LIFE To Others. The key is to be with one another whether that be just prayer, silence (in times of dire stress and loss), or listening. Have an open Bible, a regular, consistent meeting time and place, or just get together sporadically when needed; it is about sharing and caring! When I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ in the early eighties I helped start the "Lighthouse Movement" based on this model.
Recovery Groups: Healing and Learning together. These are semi-therapy groups for people overcoming addictions, life stress, loss, divorce recovery, or learning basic relationship skills. The benefit is being able to deal with life, stress, better being able to overcome extreme hardships such as the death of a loved one, and help in living a more stable life. Premarital and marriage building skills also fall into this category. It is essential that these groups are staffed with educated and trained clinicians or supervised by one!
Ministry Groups: Doing the service of our Lord together: These groups are a place to serve and use spiritual gifts. These groups usually have a specific agenda. It could be a ministry in the church or community such as the women's morning break, mothers support, prayer ministry, parenting skills, or direct ministry such as choir, Deacons, Elders, building and grounds, or…. The benefit is being able to develop the skills to serve the Lord and apply your faith into the church and community in a more meaningful and effective way. The primary purpose is preparation for the ministry. This is a football huddle, coming together to share, care, and prepare for the ministry by coming to know the Lord and one another more.
Evangelistic Groups: Sharing the Lord together. The main function is to invite new Christians and non-Christians. These are Small Groups designed to introduce Christ in a loving and caring way. The benefit is being able to apply the Great Commandment and the Great Commission to the people around you in a personal and powerful way. There are two primary models, the "Alpha Groups" and the "Lighthouses." (see links below.)
Small Groups are the best way to apply the "one anothers" in Scripture, and there are over 50 of them-look them up in a concordance! There are many other types of Small Groups too, but most will fall under one of the above categories. It is paramount and fundamental that all groups must also have the atmosphere of care, be non-judgmental, and be a safe place to reflect on life situations. It is the duty of all participants to give and receive care and learn about the ways of God through the Bible and prayer. Any of these main types can and should combine Accountability and Bible study models with the focus on being interactive and introspective. It is also essential that confidences be kept. What is shared in a Small Group stays in the Small Group unless you have the permission of the person to share information. (If they are a danger to themselves or someone else, you need to involve a professional counselor and/or the authorities).
If there is little Bible time in a Small Group, the person needs to be in another Bible study group or another primary means for their discipleship. All of these types should incorporate a mentoring model, seeking answers to the question how do I deal with life and bring my encounters with God, myself, and others into a more healthy Biblical approach and become a person who learns and grows? We must allow God's influence and outcome upon us. This means that The Spirit seeks us out and then we grow in Him, to allow His empowerment to affect us so we are effected by Him in our lives for the benefit of our spiritual growth, His Church, and His glory! Each Small Group model-if it is Christian based model-is about pursuing a more meaningful relationship with God while developing key friendships with others in the church. It is learning and growing in community. Remember, we all need to have encouragement, advice, and support from a community of Believers who are growing in Him.
The Key Principles
They devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching and to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).
A Small Group is analogous to a network, an association of relationships joined together in harmony within the bonds of the Fruits of the Spirit, commitment, and a common purpose. The purpose is to know and grow in Christ and make Him known to others in the group, church, community, and world. We are to show our gratitude to Christ by our service to share Him, encourage others with hope and His love though us, help the downcast, and build one another up while proclaiming God's Kingdom. Within these key precepts, each group will have its own group dynamic (personality) and different skills, call, and opportunities. Thus, we can honor their uniqueness and what the Holy Spirit is doing in them, while at the same time, realizing there are key precepts that each group needs to function in its best for our Lord's glory. There is no specific formula or plan for how a church can do Small Groups, as each church and each group is unique. Nonetheless, by understanding these precepts, we can be better able to exhibit wisdom and discernment in knowing what we are to do; thus, the groups can be guided as a shepherd guides his sheep, yet remain uniquely different in Him and used by Him. Thus, the leader and the atmosphere of the group dynamic should have the desire to:
· Love the Lord! Sharing Life's Adventure of knowing Him. The primary purpose is to encounter Jesus in a personal way. Some will not, and that is OK; we call that evangelism, but the leaders must have this precept down (Mark 12:29-31)!
· Growing! Growing with Jesus by discovering His precepts and the magnificent person you are in Christ. The group's dynamic should desire to learn and grow in the Lord. Not all will have this all of the time, as we all have our ups and downs in our spiritual pilgrimage, but the overall reason is to know Him (Phil. 3:1-14)!
· Bible Study! Studying the Word. The Bible is the cradle to God's Word, what He has to say to us. The Bible must be the principle content. The Bible is to provide us with the insights and applications for Christian living. Other topics, such as recovery issues and book studies, may be used as long as the Bible is there, open and used (2 Tim. 3:14-17)!
· Prayer! Prayer is our means to communicate with God by telling Him our needs and hearing from Him concerning His plan and care. All that we do in a Small Group must point to God as Creator, Savior, and as Lord (Phil. 4:4-7).
· Relationships! Filled with Fellowship. For celebrating the good times and forming life-long impacting friendships, fellowship is the building of our bonds with one another. We do this by sharing, openly and honestly, and being vulnerable while keeping confidences. People need to know they are in a safe environment so they can share and connect-to care so all can share. This builds trust and community and enables people to be who they are without the need to pretend while they learn who they are in Christ (Col. 2:2-4).
· Comfort and Counsel! Support in the bad times. We are called to help others though their crises and hurts by listening, and, if appropriate, giving wise council. In the trials of life, we need a place to rest and to heal, and to be encouraged, prayed over, and supported. The result is the healing, learning, and getting back to the game the Lord has called us to play (Rom. 12:1-2; 10).
· Accountability! We are called to hold one another responsible in Christ within the parameters of care, and to keep confidences (Heb. 10:24-25).
· Celebration! Encouraging and honoring others because we are in a supportive Christian community that really is, as the name implies, "like Christ" (2 Cor. 2:14-15; 8:23-24).
When these precepts are at work, then the hurting, the lonely, the curious, and the person who is passionate can come and feel comfortable in sharing, to be challenged in love, and to be encouraged to grow in our Lord! In a good Small Group, we can apply God's Word to our lives so we can become what God desires us to be! Then, once the Small Groups are functioning properly, they can be used as outreach and ministry platforms. The people who come to know Christ can now make Christ known!
· Sharing Out! Divide and conquer. Each person in the group should be encouraged to invite friends and acquaintances (but not forced to). The Small Groups need to be open to growth. When they do grow-by inviting new people into them, especially non-Christians-they can split and form two groups, and so forth. The key for success is the training and equipping of the leaders. Leaders should be mentoring their replacements so when the group splits there will be a leader waiting. The leader will teach both by example and by instruction so everyone's potential is sought, challenged, prepared, and reached. Small Group ministry is a team with coaches, and assistant coaches who grow to become coaches (Acts 20:20).
· Outreach! Reaching the lost and ministering in His church. When the Small Groups are growing, they are inviting non-Christians, and can become one of the best avenues to reach people for the Kingdom. Also, the ministry of the church can come from Small Groups, too. Visitation, crisis response, prayer ministry, or virtually any ministry in the church can be operated by Small Group people. Each Small Group can pick a specific ministry and stick to it, or do what is needed when it is needed. This would be in addition to its primary function. The call is to reach people for the Lord and then care for those people and the others in the community and the world (1 Pet. 3:15).
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47 NIV).
I believe that these key precepts are needed to create this network to be effective and effectual. Not all these precepts will be in everyone or every group, which is OK, but there should at least be an endeavor and desire to learn and grow. Sometimes, someone just needs a place to vent and to express their hurt from the trials of life they have gone through. Sometimes, people do not know the Lord and are curious as to what this Christianity is all about. Sometimes, people are stagnant in their faith, and need to discover how to break their barriers. Sometimes, a person has a passion to learn. Whatever the motivation and reason, a good Small Group will welcome them.
Small Groups are the way to grow your church in Him! Your church is called to build and grow Small Groups!
© 2004 originally titled "Why Should We Be in Small Groups," 1989, revised 2004, R.J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/