In his book, The Problem of Wineskins, Howard Snyder points to a number of advantages of a small group within the church.
- It is flexible. The group can change its procedure readily and meet the needs of its members. My own group changes every three months.
- It is mobile. You can meet in a home or even an office. It is not bound by a building. Think of the 3,000 people in Acts 2 meeting in homes!
- It is inclusive. You are missed if you don’t come. The small group is open to all types of people.
- It is personal. The small group creates a place where my needs and the needs of those others who commit themselves to it can be met. I remember our small group studying Psalm 46 after my son’s bike was stolen right out from under him. What a great help it was for Julie and me to have around us friends who could not only affirm with us the truth of the psalm, that God is our refuge and our strength, but who could also be Christ’s body to us in a personal way through their listening and praying.
- It is risky. A small group puts us at the edge of adventure in our Christian life. As we discover others and ourselves through conflict, care and confrontation, we grow. God works in our lives through the others.
- It is an excellent way to evangelize. The true friendship of a small group will be noticed by the world, if the church is actually in the world.
It is not easy to begin a small group strategy in the church. For some, it is too much of a change. But I’ve seen it work. In my church in California, a small group of about 12 became convinced what was happening in their group was important enough to share with others in the church. So each member learned how to lead another small group. They risked themselves and changed our church. Now almost half of the congregation is involved in small groups. This was particularly helpful when for more than a year the church was without a pastor. It grew even without professional leadership.
God is calling us to a great task as a church. The church is not a holy place, but it is a holy people called by God to declare his mighty deeds to the world. Annie Dillard says, “We are itsy bitsy people living itsy bitsy lives raising tomatoes when we could be raising Lazarus” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). The practical nature of small groups can be key in penetrating our world. They can help us raise Lazarus.