People form small groups around centers of common interest; they cluster socioeconomically, not geographically. True, home fellowships are brought together by a common interest in the Bible, love for Christ, and dependence on interpersonal support. Yet, many people share those interests without bonding together in clusters. These common bonds would not suffice in themselves to form a particular small group without some additional core of commonality that draws people to one another. At the heart of the small-group phenomenon is an interdependence among friends.
This raises the question of cliques in the church. Most of us have preached or heard preaching against church cliques as far back as we can remember. Now we are beginning to understand that cliquing is a natural and desirable gregarious trait that unites a congregation and forms the basis for home ministries. Home Bible studies take advantage of this natural bonding by providing a creative function for friendship groups.
The negative side of this social phenomenon is cliquishness—the temptation to exclude outsiders. Church leaders can avoid this problem by actively encouraging hospitality, posting public invitations to all home groups, and starting new groups as friendship circles develop.
Although home programs are not in themselves evangelistic, they contribute to church growth by strengthening the whole fiber of the congregation. Much as grapes grow in clusters, a church develops by attracting friendship groups around a central stem. Some center of mutual interest binds a congregation together in love and fellowship; but the church is made up of smaller units, each of which is more or less complete in itself. The force that attracts groups into a church body varies, but it often has something to do with a common ethnic, economic, or social background and lifestyle, a common belief system, and a popular pastor. The larger church learns to cluster smaller groups into its greater whole by providing nourishment, encouragement, identity, and protection.
Myth 3: Bible Study Is the Centerpiece of a Small Group.
In the beginning, I thought people wanted to gather in homes to study the Bible, so I put most of my effort into preparing the lessons. I still write and print a Bible lesson each week and accumulate them into 13-week series, but I have learned that people do not come to homes primarily for Bible study.
Rather, they are attracted by their needs for social interaction, the support of caring and sharing friends, and a sense of belonging to a meaningful body of peers. They want a place where they can get good advice and feel free to speak without rejection.
When I realized this, I did the necessary research in small-group dynamics and organized the home meetings to provide for the whole range of needs. Our church's home meetings now have four elements … in this order:
1. Fellowship (conversation and refreshments)
2. Bible Study (a prepared lesson)
3. Self-Expression (sharing, exhortation, and prayer requests)
4. Prayer (either individually or as a group)
Myth 4: A Small Group Needs One Strong Leader.
The biblical shepherds led their flocks to pasture, but those of today drive the sheep. I soon discovered a similar contrast of leadership styles in home fellowships. Some led out strongly; others nudged around the edges.
Because people need both to hear and be heard, small groups do best with sharing rather than dominant leaders.