In our modern culture, small groups are often viewed merely as a program or a fellowship ministry within the church. But for the New Testament church, it was a way of life, encompassing every area of their lives. Their relationships with one another were critical to their pursuit of Jesus, their growth in Christ, and their witness to the Good News. It would be impossible to experience biblical community apart from spiritually significant, intentional relationships with other believers. Relational structures like small groups, therefore, are an integral part of "being" the church and not just "doing" church.
Character Change Happens Best in the Context of Community
The consumer mentality rampant in our culture has permeated our understanding of community. We focus on what we are going to get out of church or small group rather than what God is going to do in us and through us because of our relationships within community. We need each other to help us know the truth about who we are, who God is, and how we can live in light of those truths. Like iron sharpening iron, the relationships we form within our small communities can become a tool for God to use in our character transformation. Dr. Bilezikian writes:
It is in small groups that people can get close enough to know each other, to care and share, to challenge and support, to confide and confess, to forgive and be forgiven, to laugh and weep together, to be accountable to each other, to watch over each other and to grow together. Personal growth does not happen in isolation. It is the result of interactive relationships. Small groups are God's gift to foster changes in character and spiritual growth.
We live in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected world. Though social media and other technology have made our world seemingly more connected, people have fewer genuine friends than ever before. It feels scary and threatening to allow ourselves to be known or to invest in knowing someone else at a deep level. It is much easier and more convenient to stay on the surface. Yet when we take the risk of being authentic with a small group of people, we can experience God's grace and love coming through others, which leads to freedom and transformation.
John Ortberg writes: "God uses people to form people. That is why what happens between you and another person is never merely human-to-human interaction—the Spirit longs to be powerfully at work in every encounter." So the goal of small groups is to create environments where Spirit-driven, life-giving experiences can flourish. While the type of group or study can help promote a positive environment, the real things that promote a healthy environment for flourishing are prayer, support, service, confession, worship, accountability, conflict resolution, social gatherings, and simply doing life together. Regardless of the specific guidelines a church may have in their small-group ministry, its objective ultimately is to help people engage in relationships that help them become more like Christ. Spend time building an environment that allows true relationships to flourish.
Small Groups Are on a Mission Beyond Themselves
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 mandates that every follower of Christ is on mission to "go and make disciples of all nations." Jesus gave this instruction to all his followers, both as individuals and as the body of Christ. We, as a small group and as a church, bear collective witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.