In the next couple weeks, our church will be launching into a new season of small group ministry, or what we call “Grace Groups”. They stand at the center of our community of faith, and our group ministry plays a vital role in accomplishing the vision to make disciples.
As I reflect on my own journey with Christ, it was a small group ministry with my college’s Intervarsity that God used to awaken my soul to his grace, convict me of a life being lived without Christ at the center, and to draw me back to himself. I couldn’t justify my spiritual hypocrisy as easily once I was in the group, because it’s harder to hide in a small group than it is to hide in the back pew of a sanctuary.
This impact eventually led me to step into a ministry role for the first time, leading the athlete small group within Intervarsity my senior year at college. In the years that followed, both at TCNJ and then back home at Grace Church after college, it’s small group ministry where I grew the most, made the closest friends, and began the long journey towards full-time ministry. It really is true that the larger growth happens the more you shrink a room, and with that said, here are five reasons why committing to small group ministry is a worthwhile decision:
1. Small Group Takes Our Eyes Off Ourselves
One of the prolific dangers to thriving churches in America today is our propensity towards consumeristic mindsets and applying that to our spiritual walk. We can slip into thinking like consumers when it comes to our faith: what do I need? How do I want to do things? In what way does this benefit me?
So it’s no wonder that many people drift away from church community altogether without second thought, or at the very least, isolate themselves to only the weekly gathering on Sunday mornings. We simply convince ourselves that we don’t need the “extra” stuff, we’re good with the bare minimum on our terms. As I’ve said multiple times before, while the Sunday gathering is the most important spiritual hour of your week, it by no means is the only hour of your week if you are a healthy Christian.
Being a committed member of a small group helps us to fight against the propensity towards selfishness, and encourages us to regularly be in the lives of others, who by our presence and contribution, receive the encouragement they need to persevere (Heb 10:24). The Holy Spirit distributes various spiritual gifts among the body (1 Cor 12:4-6), not for our own sake, but for the sake of building up the church and these gifts vary so that no one has them all, and we all need one another.
Going to small group is an important way to stop navel gazing (think about it…) and lift your eyes to see others and step into the spaces of their lives as well. And don’t look now, but when that happens, you’ll also find that other people get their eyes on you, too.
2. Small Group Brings Wisdom from Other Perspectives
An obvious, yet noteworthy, thing happens whenever you go to small group. You hear perspectives on God’s Word and on the application of God’s Word to our lives from other people that you would not have thought of on your own. I serve as the Senior Pastor of Grace, and I can honestly say that each week at the small group I lead, I learn something new or think about the truth of God’s Word in a way I would have never done so on my own because of a point another member of the group made.
There is a danger here, as well, in that a perspective that is either theologically wrong or practically unhelpful may be shared too, which puts the responsibility on the small group leader to facilitate, encourage, and correct where needed.
But one way we can resist the tendency to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to (Rom 12:3), is to be open to being edified by others in our faith community, regardless of their background or how long they have been following Jesus. In this sense, small groups should be most faithfully attended by the most mature believers in the church, because they are walking in humility by absorbing perspective from others.
3. Small Group is Where Friendships Are Cultivated
This past weekend, I concluded our summer series in the book of Proverbs by looking at the Wisdom of Friendship. This relationship is the most neglected one in the church today, particularly in the suburbs, and it says something that a book on Wisdom (Proverbs) has much to say about the need for good friends.
We toss the word “friend” around pretty loosely in our day, and the risk of doing so is that we could miss the Biblical purpose of friendship. At its core, a true friend is someone who encourages and inspires you to look more like Jesus. By being friends with this person, you are growing in the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to the fruit of the flesh (Gal 5:16-24), and Lord willing, your friendship to them is accomplishing the same.
The best part about Biblical friendships is that they don’t require you to be in the same life stage, or have the same hobbies, or resemble one another’s personalities. When your common bond in Jesus Christ, it sets the foundation for the best friendships in the world. And actually, if you don’t share much else in common other than Jesus, this is a friendship that will serve as a witness to a watching world.
Friendships can be sparked and cultivated in a small group.
4. Small Group Equips Us to Apply God’s Word to Our Lives
Every sermon has an element of application in it, where a pastor unpacks the meaning of a given passage, including the character and nature of God and his work, and then applies this to who he is preaching to. But a sermon’s application is severely limited, in that a pastor can typically only scratch the surface or speak in generalities when the congregation is so vast and diverse. It’s in the setting of a small group discussion, where the meaning of a passage can be most effectively applied to our lives both individually and corporately.
One saying we give our leaders, is “the fire that gets sparked in the sanctuary, gets stoked in the living room.” The Sunday morning sermon and the small group discussion are two sides of the same coin, and both are vital in equipping us to let God’s ancient word fall afresh on us with current application.
5. Small Groups Build Up the Church In Maturity
There’s nothing magical about “small groups”, and that phrase is still an infant when put up against the long history of the church across the globe. But the vision of what Small Groups accomplish is as old as the apostles themselves, where there are gatherings within the community faith that have a structured process of leaning into God’s Word and encouraging one another to live it out.
It is by grace we are saved, and it is by grace we are sustained and sanctified into the fullness of Christ in the context of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-15). At Grace, Christ-Centered community is one of our four pillars that we rely on to aid us in making disciples to God’s glory, and our small group ministry stands at the center of that pillar. When we train leaders, we tell them we seek to ENGAGE, ENCOURAGE, and EQUIP God’s people through this ministry of small groups, not just for the sake of having a great ministry, but for the sake of building up the body.
As our church sets out on another season of small groups, be encouraged that it is an extremely valuable means of grace that God will use in you and through you for His Glory.