I’m passionate about the importance of small groups complementing (not duplicating) the experience of the corporate gatherings on the weekends. I’ve seen seasoned lay leaders lead a small group for the first time and innocently turn it into a mini-service or Sunday school class. This happens as a result of their previous church history, but it is not the essence of what a small group should be.
I believe a small group is six to 15 people who are growing in relationship, discipleship and leadership together. There is a subtle dynamic of teaching that takes place in the group sessions, but it is very limited compared to the Sunday school model of ministry.
Small group meetings should be interactive times within the context of the Bible, prayer/worship and food (that’s right, FOOD is spiritual). A Sunday school class is a one-way monologue that has a different focus and value. Did I say value? Of course! Classroom settings are invaluable to a church and its mission. Teachers are one of the five offices mentioned in Ephesians 4:11. However, a balanced small group meeting will produce a different output than a class (for more on this see 7 Reasons to Boycott Sunday School).
A valid question to what’s already been presented would be, “Where in the Bible is a Small Group Meeting?” My initial response to that would be that small groups are all throughout the Bible as ancient communities were much more intertwined than 21st-century America. People were frequently invited into each other’s homes and the pace of life was much slower, thus more relational. The fact that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi suggests that He used all of the best practices in a small group leader’s tool-kit.
To answer the question more head-on would cause me to turn to Acts 2:42-47:
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers… So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Noticed they met in the temple for corporate worship and teaching but they also met from house to house in smaller groups for community. There were four attributes given which describe what they were devoted to on a regular basis:
- Apostles’ Doctrine (the Word of God)
- Prayer (includes Worship)
- Breaking Bread (Food)
To answer the question given in the title of this article, I want to key-in on the second attribute: fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship is the word koinonia. The word means “community.”
When you dig a little deeper into its outline of biblical usage you get Three Different Aspects to Koinonia…
1. Koinonia means Sharing and Participation. This tells me that their community was not merely a classroom setting. There was interaction between believers. It wasn’t a monologue; it was a dialogue involving every person.
Jewish Rabbis would intentionally create this dynamic by leading with questions. Read Matthew 16:13-17 to see Jesus engaging His small group to share and participate by asking them questions.
2. Koinonia means Contribution and a Gift Jointly Contributed. This tells me that their community was not merely made up of people who came to be fed. (Ever heard the following: I feel like I’m not getting fed.) People came to make a contribution. They came to encourage, to participate and to support each other by any means necessary. They were contributors, not consumers.
Today, people may start out attending a small group to get fed, but the culture of the group should cause them to become more. I was blessed last night at our small group to hear a young lady named Vicky praying out loud for others in the group. She’s attended our group for a while now and it’s been amazing to see her grow and come out of her shell through inviting new people to our group and ministering to others within the group too. She has become a contributor.
3. Koinonia means Intimacy. This tells me that their community was not merely a crowd of disconnected lives. Their community produced relationships because it was designed to do just that.
I love corporate worship and preaching. I can’t get enough of it. There is a special anointing from God when believers dwell together in unity (Psalm 133). I am a large group-gathering junkie!
On the flip side, I cannot fellowship with 200 people or 500 people or a 1,000 people or more. I simply cannot build closer relationships in that environment. I can, however, become more familiar with a group of six to 15 people that are engaging each other, sharing with each other and ministering to one another.
In conclusion, I hope you can read between the lines to see that I am not a small group extremist. I am not anti-Sunday school or anti-corporate gatherings. For me, it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. When I study the early church, I see a powerful movement that could come together in mass and live together in rich community. This biblical pattern gives the modern church a balanced expression that brings maturity to the body of Christ.
Thoughts? Comments? Do you disagree?
This article originally appeared here.