Where did small groups start? Are cell groups (small groups, care groups) a New Testament pattern? Which denominations, other than the Methodists, promote the use of small groups?

Though there's a lot we don't know about the early church, we can learn a lot from the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul. Paul uses the word "ekklesia," which from pre-Christian days meant "any gathering of a group of people," to refer to a gathering of people before God. The gatherings were usually small, probably 30 members on average, and the people often belonged to the same household or guild. Sometimes several such groups met together, but this was probably rare before the third century, when special buildings for Christian worship began to be constructed.

Small groups of Christians met regularly (weekly or perhaps monthly) for worship, encouragement, and instruction as early as the first decades of Christianity, but it's not quite accurate to call them "small groups" in the contemporary sense. These groups didn't think of themselves as the more personal, relational aspect of a larger church, as many small groups do now—they were the only church that members knew.

For centuries after the establishment of church buildings, religious activity among laypeople tended to be centered in the local church and the home. (Monastic groups constitute another type of spiritual community, but because of the time and lifestyle commitments required, the monastic experience is fundamentally different from any modern small group.) Low literacy and a lack of access to the Scriptures discouraged the formation of Bible study groups, and sometimes clergy discouraged it as well, fearing sectarianism and unorthodox teaching. Martin Luther and John ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.