Much of Christian discipleship resourcing deals with what you need to know, not who you need to be with. That is sad, because if we get the relationships right, the information will follow.
In other words, if we connect people in real gospel community, they will learn, but the opposite is not always true. We’re too often concerned only with post-conversion information download, and we don’t take community and relationship-based discipleship seriously enough.
In our research, particularly in Transformational Church, Transformational Discipleship, and Transformational Groups, we found that the best churches take small groups very seriously, start new groups regularly, and grow the church’s involvement in them for the good of the people and for the sake of God’s mission.
Four key things that we found were foundational to small group success.
First, personal discovery happens in small groups.
You can learn, ask questions, involve yourself in the lives of others, and generally make yourself vulnerable among other people who are doing the same in small groups. You just can’t do that in sermons when there is no conversation, no feedback, and no questions. Sermons leave no room to interact with or possibly even question any part of what’s being taught.
On the other hand, spiritual growth happens better with others, in community, with open lines of communication and freedom to speak into one another’s lives.
Second, smaller communities act more like, well, communities.
That may seem like a given, but the bigger the group is, the less like community it feels. The kind of community I am advocating requires a level of intimacy easily lost as numbers grow.
You simply cannot know everyone beyond a certain point, and you certainly will not open up about your struggles and sins in a large group of people you don’t know.
Third, small groups deliver deeper friendships that double as accountability.
When people know you—really know you—your life becomes far more transparent, including your sin, struggles, successes, and more. Others learn to read you and will call you out for those sins, encourage you through those struggles, and rejoice with you in those successes. This is part of what we should expect from good friends—and groups create friends.
Fourth, small groups deliver maximum participation.
There are opportunities to discuss the sermon with others in the church. Church life issues can be discussed openly among trusted friends. Mission can be planned out and participated in together. Lives are sharpened and leaders developed. Small groups are an absolute necessity for involving as many people as possible in the life and ministry of your church.
Some Basic Application
Now that we have seen why small groups are good, let me quickly turn the focus to how they are good. Here are five quick ways to make the above benefits of groups become reality.
First, have a mission orientation. God is on a mission and we join Him on that mission together.
Second, have “Word-driven” mentality. The Scripture and gospel infiltrate everything that they do.
Third, have a multiplication mindset. Transformational groups plan to intentionally reproduce.
Fourth, be stranger–welcoming. They openly welcome those far from God.
Fifth, have a kingdom focus. We aren’t just meeting to be fed; we are learning to live the ways of the kingdom and proclaim the kingdom together.
Whatever your plan or program for small groups, keep these principles in mind. Understand why groups are good and take advantage of the good they can bring into your church.
You can read more about these ideas in my book with Eric Geiger Transformational Groups.