Small Groups Are Vitally Important…
Want to hear a staggering statistic? Approximately 90% of the people in our church who are in a small group (what we call Life Groups), are bearing fruit in their walk with Christ. They’re dealing with sin, asking hard questions, getting answers, and not getting away with lone-ranger Christianity. Numbers show that they’re using their spiritual gift by serving on a ministry team, stewarding as God provides through giving, and being held accountable by people they trust. Time and time again people report that when they experience crisis, their small group was there for them. When they were living in sin, their small group called them out and lovingly walked with them through restorative action. Marriages have been rescued, parenting strategies sharpened, depression not allowed to be battled in isolation. When some have thought the church only wanted something from them, their small group reminded them that the church wants something for them.
The evidence is undeniable that the most joyful Christians are the ones living obediently for Christ in community. Christ gave gifts to the church in order to use them for His glory and He gave the church each other because He knew we needed community.
Christ lovingly saves people from eternal hell. Small groups lovingly save people from themselves.
When Christianity Today put out research on the epidemic of biblical illiteracy in the church, researchers agreed that small groups were a big part of the cure.[i] Not because two hours of socializing worked wonders, but because small groups are like a bible-dissecting laboratory filled with prayer, questions, discussions, and support! Think back to the collaboration and learning that took place with your science lab partners in 11th grade biology class. Like a lecture that leads to a collaborative lab project, small groups are where the sermon transforms from a one-way proclamation, to deep and meaningful discipleship.
Even with evidence surrounding the benefits of small group communities in the church, many refuse to engage in them. The reasons for not being in a small group could be logical such as…well, there really isn’t a logical reason, or a biblical one, so let’s admit that our excuses are just that…excuses.
For example, if your church doesn’t have a group for your life stage, that means you should start one or join a group with other generations in order to learn or share wisdom. It’s not the pastors job to make a group for you, it’s your job to take a step of faith into community. I know of one couple that prepared to start a group for “empty-nesters” at a very young church plant simply because there was just one other couple in the church in that life stage. They met with one another for over a year before another couple joined the group. I know of another group of young women who asked a seasoned woman to lead them so they could grow in wisdom. How’s that for Titus 2:3-5? If your job causes you to work during the evening, start a group or join a group that meets very early in the morning. If your church doesn’t have a small group ministry…ask your pastor if you can help start one. If your church doesn’t have enough leaders, start a training program for leaders and you’ll attract them like flies. Leaders always go where they will grow.
If you will accept that bible-based small groups work, you will begin to see that a small group will save your life.
(As a disclaimer, this list assumes that a small group is not comprised of unqualified leaders, or just place for social debates, emotional devotionals, or merely watching videos on YouTube.)
- You’ll Actually Know Your Bible
On a Sunday morning, pastors don’t have time to go down every rabbit trail, or answer all the questions that arise from the text. Basically, the congregation follows along, takes their notes, and the one-way conversation ends. A small group is where repetition and retention really begin to cause biblical literacy to increase. Groups bring up thoughts, repeat what they heard, correct each other if things were mistaken, and best of all, engage the Scriptures in collaboration! This will increase biblical literacy.
Many Christians think they know their Bible because they listen to preaching on the radio every morning. They quote a little part of a verse here, and a little paraphrase there. They apply a passage out of context here, and drop a motivational quote there. It’s enough to make anyone think they actually know their Bible until they get into a small group and realize what it truly looks like to know their bible.
All-too-common today is the phrase, “Here is what this verse means to me.” A good small group community will keep reminding one another that it doesn’t really matter what a verse means to you. It matters what it means – period. When Christians commit to know the meaning of a scripture, they will be able to properly apply Scripture. Small groups are where doctrines are both discussed and applied, where numerous cross-references are turned to, and where scripture memory is an exciting challenge. Questions can be asked in safety. Answers can be clothed with truth in love. Teachers can educate personally. People begin to actually know their Bible.
Another common small group question that arises is, “What is God’s will for me?” Did you know that there are many places in the Bible that say outright, “This is God’s will for you”? Here are 5 passages to get started on knowing God’s will.
Ephesians 5:15-20, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18,1 Peter 2:13-15, 2 Peter 3:9.
His will isn’t elusive, you just need to know your bible better. Dig in with your small group and grow in His word.
- You’ll Actually Have Accountability
Many Christians fool themselves into thinking they have accountability because they’ve convinced themselves that they know their bible and are a good person. It’s a vicious cycle. Truth is, everybody needs somebody to speak into their life. Whether to deflate your lofty opinion about yourself, or to encourage you when you’re not forgiving yourself as Christ has, everybody needs somebody.
I’ll never forget an email that hit my inbox last year. A woman told our pastoral team that something happened in her small group that she had never experienced in all her life attending church. In response to a comment the woman had made, her small group leader dared to say, “Friend, you may not want to hear this but that’s your sin. Pride will do that to any of us.” The woman tearfully praised God for the honesty and boldness her small group leader had to call her out! Isn’t that such a backwards concept in today’s politically correct climate? Do you have anyone in your life who will tell you like it really is? Do you have accountability or are you living on the slippery slope of lone-ranger Christianity?
It’s human nature to avoid criticism – even to hate it. People spin their wheels running from truth all the time and end up going nowhere.
Proverbs 27:6 reminds us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
Sure, it feels better to be told what you want to hear. But it may save your life to be told what you need to hear.
- You’ll Actually Grow Spiritually
The natural result of lying to yourself about the first two in this list is that you will be convinced that you’re spiritually growing – but in actuality, you’re spiritually dead.
What a perfect lie for the enemy to convince you of! Here you are thinking you know the Bible, thinking you’re accountable, and thinking you’re spiritual, but your life is a house of cards. It’s as though Satan is living up to his title, Father of Lies (John 8:44).
In a small group, Satan’s strategy has no chance. It is likely that you will deal with topics like confessing sin, pride, jealousy, envy, strife, salvation, God’s sovereignty, Christ’s deity, the Holy Spirit, the authority of Scripture, the priority of worship, parenting, God’s will, and on and on. If you face these topics head on with a group for years is it even possible that you won’t grow?
Look at the list of spiritual “fruit” that Galatians 5:22-23 describes. Can even one of them be fully affirmed unless others can attest to it? You can’t love someone without it being seen. You can’t be kind without someone experiencing your kindness. You can’t be gentle without a recipient of your gentleness. These are evidence of the Spirit’s residence in your life. Evidence is meant to be seen! The best way to know if you’re actually growing spiritually is to have a community of people witnessing the growth and experiencing the growth.
Want to enjoy the life-saving benefits of lasting spiritual growth? Join a bible-based small group, faithfully attend, and watch as Christ is glorified through your life.
“And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
- Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur
- Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
[i] Stetzer, Ed. “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches.” Christianity Today, July 6, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/july/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.html.
***Author’s Note: The use of this research is for the purpose of objective numerical data. This is not an endorsement of Ed Stetzer, his theology or methods, LifeWay, or the theology and practice that is endorsed by any organization they are associated with.