A Brief History of Small Groups (part 1)

A Brief History of Small Groups (part 1)

Exploring the development of small groups in the Bible and the history of the Church

Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part article. In Part 2, the author will examine examples of transformational community throughout the history of the Church.

When I first committed my time to learning all I could about the small-group process and its implications for not only the individual, but the church as a whole, the comment I often heard was: "Oh, this is a passing fad. It's the buzz word for the moment, but soon it will all pass."

But with a bit of reflection on the Scriptures, church history, and most certainly the dynamic model Jesus gives us, we soon realize that the small group has been the basis for changing lives for centuries and is here to stay. It is the small-group community where healthy relationships grow, where life stories are shared, and where spiritual growth influences the journey through future life experiences.

Indeed, small-group community is the heart and core for becoming the people of God.

Biblical Snapshots of Small-Group Community

Observing the biblical examples of life together in small groups paints a picture of God's character and existence. Let's consider a few situations where it is clear that God has ordained a small group of his people to gather for his perfect purpose.

The Trinity

From the very beginning of creation, God has existed in triune community. Although the Trinity is not explicitly stated in the Bible, it is implied throughout all Scripture (Genesis 1:1-2, 26; Luke 1:35-37; John 14:16-26; John 17; and Revelation 1:4-6, for example). We vividly observe the action between the three persons of God: God the Father, the One who sustains and from whom we derive our purpose; God the Son, the One and Only Redeemer of mankind; and God the Holy Spirit, the One who enlightens, comforts, and sanctifies.

The three persons of one Holy God are entwined throughout creation and the fall, and are at the very heart of the plan of redemption through Jesus' victory over death. A triune God, the oneness of Deity and the plurality of Persons, interdependent relationships, offers the hope we have today.

God's Word is a timeless truth. As we come together in our small groups, we should strive to know the love of God the Father, the heartbeat of Jesus, God in the flesh, and the power of God's enabling Spirit. We should yearn to be imitators of God, longing for life-transformation through spiritual renewal.

Noah

Think about Noah and his group of seven. The Lord grieved over the wickedness on the earth and his heart was filled with pain (Genesis 6:5-6). But Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time and he walked with God. Noah and his three sons found favor with the Lord, and our mighty, loving God chose these men and their wives to renew his creation. They existed in cramped quarters with numerous animals, bridging their unique characteristics and environments, and waited for the moment God would release them from the high waters to the drying soil. (I would imagine there was cause for serious conflict-management skills).

Popular songs and verses most often paint the picture of 40 agonizing rainy days within the confines of this dwelling, with a few carefully selected animals two by two. Upon careful study, one realizes that in fact it was about a year and four months, and many more animals than the examples of wooden ark masterpieces would suggest. Nevertheless, this was a chosen community—a small group strategically placed on the earth for God's perfect purposes; a community that would lead to the rise of God's people.

Related

A Brief History of Small Groups (part 2)
A Brief History of Small Groups (part 2)
Exploring the development of small groups in the Bible and the history of the Church
Luther
Luther
The real-life story of the monk who sparked the Reformation and changed western civilization.