The core ministry of a church will determine the trajectory of the whole church. If a church is built around a dynamic preacher or teacher, then it will affect how everyone views the Christian life and ministry. When the student ministry is the dominant feature in a congregation, then worship, fellowships, communication, and all the rest will change to accommodate it. Perhaps it is because, as humans, we like a default position. We find the influential force and fall in behind its wake.
The small group ministry is often the chief and organizing ministry of a church. In all honesty, it is my preference. Even though I am one of the teaching pastors at my church, my hope is that people will choose their small group over my preaching every time. Our faith is a relational one and nothing can substitute for believers living interconnected lives.
It appears that many churches are struggling with the groups ministry of the church. It can happen in multiple environments; on campus, off campus, homes, bookstores, and coffee shops. It goes by a myriad of names; Sunday School, small groups, Bible study fellowships, or Life Groups. But no matter where it is or what it’s called, these smaller gatherings are a critical part of our spiritual development.
Let me offer 7 shifts for helping your Bible study groups better fulfill their purpose:
1. Timeframe: Move from thinking about the group as meeting for one hour to ministering for one week. In other words, it is not a weekly get-together but an everyday ministry.
2. Framework: Move from organization to leadership. The groups system of your church is the training ground for leadership in the Kingdom. Don’t just organize people, raise up leaders.
3. Involvement: Move from a caste to freedom. A caste system dictates that your current “place” in culture will remain forever. Bible study groups involve the freedom to move, try new ministry opportunities and grow into new places of God’s mission.
4. Type: Move from closed to community. Many people discuss groups as either closed (we’ve made an agreement to do this study together as a group) or open (anyone is welcome to join at any time). Both have their purpose and place. But both need to focus on people. Our groups need to be about the community of people rather than the lesson of the curriculum.
5. Perspective: Move from meeting to minister. Groups gather for the purpose of the people, not for the sake of the calendar. Help your people (especially your leaders) to understand that ministering to the people involved is more important than sustaining a great hour of meeting.
6. Reason: Move from teaching to transformation. An emphasis on teaching is an emphasis on the teacher. An emphasis on transformation is an emphasis on the group. If we reset our thinking here, we will reset our thinking on just about everything else.
7. Goal: Move from gather to scatter. Healthy groups exist for more than the people currently in attendance. Make the gathering important for the learning, ministry, and growth that scatters the church into the world for God’s mission.
Philip Nation serves as the Director of Content Development at Lifeway, and Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship Church. He is the co-author of several books, including Compelled: Living the Mission of God and Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow.