In the concluding post in this series I want to offer a couple of practical reasons why small groups are essential to building Christian community. I use the word ‘essential’ on purpose. Some may regard small groups as something new (although even in evangelical Christianity they can no longer be viewed as ‘new’). The format of kinds of groups may be new to us, but even Jesus noted that if two or three are gathered in His name, he promises to be there. I think it is safe to say that Jesus envisioned his church growing through groups of believers.
One the ways we can be assured of this is the sheer number of “one another” commands that can be found scattered throughout the New Testament. One would be hard pressed to obey these commands if only gathering in large assemblies.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ~John 13:34
There are over 21 ‘one another’ commands in Scripture. You are likely familiar with most of them. A few examples…
- Accept one another (Romans 15:5-7)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Bear with and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13-15)
- Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Honor one another (Romans 12:10)
Groups give us opportunity to obey these commands personally and effectively, in relationship to other believers. There may be a way to apply these to our relationships in the larger assembly, but the personal nature of them requires knowledge of the other person. I’m all in favor of large assemblies – the more the better! I’m also in favor of small groups – and the more the better! Our effort is to make the best of both of these settings in order to accommodate growth in discipleship, which is a very serious matter.
So, you are in a small group. How are you going to purposefully and intentionally grow in community? Here are some practical suggestions.
Commit to meet every week. Particularly if the group is 20 or less, if a few families cannot make the meeting the others are often tempted just to dismiss the meeting. And sometimes this cannot be avoided. But if our focus is on building relationships, then meeting together – even as a smaller group – can do nothing but lead us closer to our goals. The focus of the meeting might change. Perhaps the remnants of the group can share a meal together or do an activity together. They could even meet with another group and get to know some other believers better. But to simply dismiss the group works against the core goals of having a small group effort.
Commit to a service project to work on as a group. Nothing builds camerraderie more than working together for a common cause. I don’t know what your group might want to do, but find a project and work on it alongside one another. One group I lead hosts a ‘love lunch’ on most First Sundays and invites particularly widows, older people who might eat lunch alone that day, and guests to the assembly. It has proven to bless the group far more than those invited (and they are blessed, they tell us!). Use the strengths of your group to do something to bless someone else.
Pray together when you are gathered, and when you are not. It is natural to pray when we gather with other Christians. How committed are we to pray for one another during the week? As we get to know one another better, those specific prayer needs will be on our hearts because they affect our friends.
Be accountable to one another. There are different kinds of accountability and different levels. How you go about this would depend on the character of your group. Perhaps someone is struggling with a confessed sin and has asked to be held accountable. A group could offer that kind of help. It is easy to see when someone is discouraged within the confines of a small group, here the group accepts the challenge of encouraging and lifting a brother or sister who is hurting. One or more members might share a personal goal, and ask the rest of the group to help them stick with it. Whatever form it takes, iron does sharpen iron and one friend can sharpen another. In such a way, be aware of ways to encourage and strengthen one another throughout the week.
Remember the mission of small groups is to build up the local church. Having a great group is a wonderful and potentially life changing thing. Every effort should be made to that end. However, that is not the primary goal of small groups. We should have a tight-knit and loving group. We should reach out to others and invite them along. Our goal is to bring others into relationship with Jesus Christ, thus strengthening the local church. We could benefit by growing groups, having more groups, empowering more leaders, and serving in more diverse ways. But all of this should point to the church, not the group.
Changing the spiritual landscape of our community calls for spending time together. This happens when we develop relationships and purposefully seek to grow in Christ.
It is true that many will avoid groups and not participate for various reasons. The saddest part of that is that the love, encouragement and strength they could offer to others becomes an unused talent, a missing ingredient that could make all the difference for someone else (and to the individual). Recently someone told me that they did not like the idea of groups and did not want to participate, but they did anyway. Now they have deeper friendships that would not have existed had they refrained from participating.
But for those who do participate, the testimony is common. You will be blessed in many ways we cannot enumerate in a series of messages such as this. I believe that because I do believe that God is at work when Christians gather to fellowship, pray, eat, study, and love … it is simply the design that God has for His people. None of our groups are perfect. None would say they are. But God gives us grace to seek Him on deeper levels, and that journey together is a great experience.
You can start at the beginning of this series by clicking HERE to read the first post.
*These four posts about Small Groups was a presentation made on a Sunday night at Forsythe Church of Christ recently. I used a number of resources, articles, sermons and my own ideas throughout.