Our small groups may not have quite so ambitious a mission. But as part of the body, we’re also part of that mission force. A group having a focus beyond just the group members themselves creates a purpose that inspires commitment.
- Does your group have a mission statement?
- Do your group members have a sense of purpose both within the group and “beyond the walls”?
Faithful in Prayer
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). Jesus had commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). They waited in prayer, and God answered powerfully on the day of Pentecost. From this point, one of the main themes of the book of Acts is God’s work in response to prayer:
- Acts 2: God sends the Holy Spirit in power in response to prayer.
- Acts 4:23–31: God again sends the Holy Spirit in power in response to prayer. Throughout the book, God continues to answer prayer that he would perform miracles and enable his servants to speak boldly (verses 29–30; see also Acts 5:12–16, 42).
- Acts 9: God responds to Paul’s prayer by sending Ananias to restore his sight and baptize him.
- Acts 10: God answers the prayer of Cornelius by sending Peter to him to share the gospel.
- Acts 12: God responds to the prayers of the gathered group at the house of Mary, the mother of John, also called Mark, by miraculously releasing Peter from prison.
- Acts 13: God answers the prayers of the church at Antioch by sending out Paul and Barnabas as missionaries.
And the story continues throughout the book. Praying together―and seeing God respond to those prayers―was one of the highlights for the early church.
Undoubtedly, the early church prayed for the needs of members as part of how they cared for each other within the community. Most of the recorded prayers in Acts, however, aren’t about this―they are focused more on the mission of the church and on God’s glory. These effectual fervent prayers energized the church by fixing their attention more vertically than horizontally. Both are important, but the typical prayer time of many of our small groups tends to focus more on the horizontal than on the vertical. As we shift the balance of our prayer times more toward the vertical, we enable our members to more fully experience God’s presence―and as the group becomes accustomed to sensing God’s presence among them, the level of commitment within the group increases.
- Does your group pray regularly and effectively together?
- How does your prayer time tend to be focused?
Increasing members’ dedication to our small groups is not a matter of “guilting” our members into coming to meetings any more than developing a sense of stewardship in a congregation is a matter of cajoling them at the time of the offering.
Growing the level of dedication in our groups is more a matter of creating a group environment members find valuable enough to make a priority―not just in meeting times, but in caring for each other, upholding each other in prayer, and more. As we devote ourselves to the foundational priorities of the early church, we will create groups that promote life transformation, community, interdependence, and commitment.
—Andrew Wheeler is the author of Together in Prayer.