Chris was a young college student who hopped around various churches trying to find the “right fit” for him. He had tried many different churches but never could seem to find that ideal he had in his mind. He would sit in service after service feeling empty on the inside, longing for something more than just a good sermon. When Chris had his fill, he would move on to the next church, because he had not found what he was looking for. What he was missing was a way to get engaged with the church body. This feeling of emptiness and longing for something more are not new problems in the church. They have plagued the church for years; even faithful believers in Christ have felt this struggle. However there is a solution for this struggle called small groups.
Before getting into what a small group actually is let’s take a moment to talk about God and his vision for community. In his talk “Only Community is Forever,” Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian asks the question: “What is the most important thing that God is doing or what we can do in this world?” The answer: an embellished “COMMUNITY!” He also continues by breaking down the story of creation and reveals that, even from the very first moments, there was community; God was in community with himself and the other parts of the Trinity. Dr. Bilezikian identifies the different aspects of the Trinity: the Great Designer/the Idea Man (The Father), the Perfector (the Spirit of God), and the Speaker of the Word/Agent of Creation (The Son), and how all were involved together in community throughout the whole creation process. In response to this he says, “If God practiced the idea of community, then so shall we.”
Small groups and community within the church are nothing new; they are seen in the wake of the early church as well as resurgence in recent years. If we turn to the Scriptures, the book of Acts documents the start of small groups. Acts 2:42-47says,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (ESV).
Very clearly we can see that the early church was the first fully functioning small group. These small groups have continued on in modern times and typically follow a structure of meeting in the home, sharing a meal together, studying God’s Word, and ending in a time of prayer.
In order to further explore what a small group is, we need to dig deeper into each of these aspects. First, taking the Bible study out of church and introducing it into the home brings a warmness not usually seen outside of the home, in which people are more likely to share what is going on in their lives such as troubles at work or struggles with the family. Sharing a meal leads to very natural conversation and reinforces the idea that this group is a family found in Christ, much like how the early church gathered and broke bread daily. Gathering and studying God’s Word give a purposeful reason to come together; otherwise the small group is a social club that fulfills communal needs rather than fulfilling communal and spiritual needs. A time of prayer gives a chance to have the group pray over needs, as well as an opportunity to rally around each other and help in whatever way possible, just like the early church did.
Small groups have the power to radically change lives. Lauren was a woman who grew up in the church her whole life but circumstances concerning her church led her to leave the faith for six years. When she began to feel a hole in her heart, she decided to give the church and Christianity another chance. She had her eyes on a particular church, but a friend invited her to their small group with a different church.
She went to the friend’s small group and when it came time for prayer requests, she asked for prayer over the decision of coming back to the church and getting involved at this church she had her eyes on. Two weeks later, Lauren shows up at her friend’s church on a Sunday morning feeling that the Lord had placed on her heart to start going and getting involved there. She returned to the small group and announced that she was there to stay. In a span of four weeks she started serving on Sunday mornings and started attending a leader training to become a small group leader.
Through her experience in a small group, she experienced true family rather than just a group of acquaintances, because they truly cared for her, took time to lift her needs up in prayer, and welcomed her into their family. Lauren was able to work past the negative feelings she had towards the church, was able to pick up where she left off six years earlier, and is even more invested in her walk with Christ.
This is the power of small groups. They have the power to bring someone back to the feet of Jesus and revitalize a walk with him. If you have not already, talk with your pastor on how to get connected with a small group at your church so you can experience community and be a part of witnessing life change.
Edward De La Portilla is currently a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and previously graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a bachelor of arts in Christian studies. His passions include: small groups, people, and connecting people into biblical community. He lives in Arlington, Texas with his wife, Kayla.
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