Too often we think about small groups from a consumer's perspective. In other words, the reason we join small groups is for what we get out of them (i.e. they help us grow, we enjoy the benefits of these relationships, we get our needs prayed for, we receive the benefits of being encouraged, etc.). Maybe it's our fault as church leaders that so many people think in this way. In our zest to get self-focused Christians to embrace small groups, we told them all the ways small groups would benefit them.
The truth is, being part of a holistic small group does benefit us, but this can't be our reason for being part of a small group. Otherwise, whenever we stop experiencing the personal benefits or the group becomes too much effort (and there will be times like this), we'll simply drop out. When we're too tired from a long workday, we won't bother going. When it takes too much work to serve each other (or it requires more of us than we feel we're getting in return), we'll simply stop attending. After all, our whole reason for being in a small group is for ourselves!
Gaining a Bigger Vision
We need a vision for small groups that's bigger than ourselves and what we get out of it. I'm in a small group because it is the biblical model of New Testament Christianity. I sacrifice for others in my group because the Bible tells me to put the needs of others ahead of mine. I show up week after week, even when I've had a long day, because I know the value of the discipline of faithfulness. I focus on meeting the needs of others in my group because friendship is a commitment, not just a benefit. I remember Philippians 2:3-4, which says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."
But having a vision for a Kingdom-impacting small group goes even further than this. Jesus said we are to make the Kingdom of God our primary concern (Matthew 6:33). We need to work at making our small groups not only places where we are helping each other grow spiritually but also places where we are bringing about biblical community (each of us using our spiritual gifts and practicing the "one anothers"). But we also need to have a vision for making our groups places where we are making a Kingdom impact together.
How do we do that? By doing the things that bring God glory and accomplish His Kingdom purposes:
- Working together in regular ministry efforts that serve the purposes of God—meeting the needs of the needy, serving the downtrodden, and giving our collective efforts toward providing tangible help to those who need it.
- Committing as a group to reach the lost people in our lives. Nothing is more effective in evangelism than a small group who invites those who don't know Jesus to be part of their beautiful, biblical community.
- Learning together to daily take up our crosses and follow Jesus in the things that make him famous.
So let's collectively work at getting over ourselves. Let's determine to make our small groups not only places where we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," but also communities on a mission to actually bring about his Kingdom in our world. Let's remember: it's not about us! And it's time our small groups stop being about us as well.
—Jay Firebaugh is the Director of Small Groups at New Life Church in Gahanna, OH. You can check out practical tools for pastors and small-group leaders on his All About Small Groups Facebook page.