By Chris McRae, BCI Discipleship Team Leader
Over the next several weeks I’m going to be discussing the importance of small group life in the overall vision and mission of the church. For the purpose of this series I will use that term to include a variety of small group types — including cells, Sunday Schools and everything in between. The time, place and structure of a group meeting is not nearly as important as the purpose of the group. As we are busy in the many differing aspects of the Christian life and in church ministry, we are to give particular focus to the command of Jesus to make disciples. That ought to be the rally point to which we return. Small groups are about making disciples of Jesus Christ. I will even argue that in small group life there is found one of the best ways for the local church to effectively and productively obey this command of the Lord. I will be exploring reasons why a great group life will change the life of your church. These are whys and wherefores that should encourage every church to invest the resources needed in building a vibrant, healthy, growing small group ministry.
The reasons listed below are all possibilities, and even eventualities, when small groups are done well in church life. However, nothing happens accidently. There is work involved in thinking, planning, implementing, and overseeing the structure and support for a fruitful ministry.
Small Groups Meet the Real Need of Authentic Community
We all have desires and needs… things that we wish were a part of our lives and things that are required for real life. One great satisfaction that fills desire and answers need is the ideal of community. While longing and needing connection, we are often found shrinking back. Why? What is it that keeps us from the communion that would work toward making us whole and holy? Perhaps it is because we are willing to go to far greater efforts to avoid what we fear than we are to gain what we need. Small group life is a safe place to risk relationships and be rewarded with community.
Small Groups Facilitate Life Transformation
All too often Small Groups are sold short of what they can best accomplish. Many churches want a group ministry because it is seen as a way to foster a sense of fellowship and genuine caring for each other in the church. Indeed, these are good and worthy goals. However, of as great, if not more significant outcome, it the change in heart and life that can take place this setting. It is said that we practice the Christian life. We don’t absorb it by osmosis. Information is the easy part. Practicing what we’ve learned is far harder. The essence of transformation comes as we are trained in the ways of the Lord. With a Small Group of friends we are encouraged in our practice and cheered in our transformation.
Small Groups Aid Ongoing Growth
Getting started is the hard part. Keeping on is harder still. Fresh enthusiasm fuels early efforts and carries us through initial struggles. However, when the days grow long and the hours weary the soul, it is natural to cut corners, to take the easy road, or simply to sit down and rest. Troubles inevitably enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. During these times our primary need is someone who will come alongside us and exhort us or encourage us to carry on towards becoming the person we know God has called us to be. In Small Group there is discussion about the truths we know, we then join together in a greater integration of truth to life.
Small Groups Are a Primary Model for Church Life
Churches, it seems, are often steamrolled by projects and programs. What’s the latest craze, who’s the biggest star and how can we duplicate the results of First Big Church of the Valley? Church, as the Holy Spirit intends, is not to be items on an agenda, curricula to get through, or schemes to employ. Church is a gathered people under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He modeled life and ministry for us. Small Groups work together to help people do life together like Jesus did with his followers. Doing life together is a biblical model, not a fancy program.
Small Groups Encourage the Practice of Life-Style Evangelism
Challenge the church to follow God’s call to do life together in Small Group for the purpose of expanding his Kingdom in our world. Challenge them to write out the names of friends they like to hang around with. Don’t worry if those friends are Christian or not. Simply ask, “Is this someone you’d like to spend time with over the next six weeks?” Invite people who do not know Christ, those who are new in their relationship with Christ, who are not growing in their relationship with Christ, who have never been in a small group, or who haven’t made spiritual life decisions in a long time.
Small Groups Are a Pipeline for Leadership Development
One of the primary goals of leadership is to produce more Leaders, Not more followers. Biblical leadership is not defined by position, power, prestige, status, or job title. The way up is down. The servant of all is the greatest of all. It is in Small Group life that young believers and immature followers have opportunities to develop their servant leadership skills. Living life together allows leaders to observe, recruit, train and develop the leaders of the future.
Small Groups Have Demonstrated Value in Increased Service and Giving
Spiritual health and maturity is the desired outcome. As people grow in Christlikeness, they grow in generosity. These two seemingly disparate issues are intimately connected as Jesus himself noted. It is critical that they be addressed because it is out of spiritual wellbeing that church members consider church finances. When people are cared for and feel loved, they give more of themselves. Because Small Groups raise the spiritual temperature, participation in ministry activity increases and the church’s giving goes up.
In coming weeks, I will explore each of these reasons for small group ministry in a bit more detail. Join me on this journey of exploration as we examine the reasons for making a big deal out of small groups and working hard to see them flourish in our setting.