Small groups are an essential ministry, for the local church and the Christian. Over fifty times in the New Testament, Christians are instructed to “one another”. For example, in Acts 2:42-48, the Early Church gathered together around the Word, prayer, food, and doing life with one another. This is what small groups should be about. In this short article, I want to talk with you about the importance of small groups in the life of the Christian.
Small groups are not first and foremost a time for Christians to gather only for fellowship or share a meal. While fellowship is important and eating food is always good, the central point of small groups is to gather around the Word and pray with God’s people. Gathering around the Word means that you read Scripture together, and someone leads the discussion of the text by people in the group. This format encourages participation among the members of the group so everyone can learn. This is important because small groups are the perfect environment for people to ask questions, receive prayer, and care.
While learning/discussion methods may vary from group to group, what matters is that the Scriptures remain central. Whether your group chooses a sermon-style presentation with questions at the end, a discussion via a question/answer format, or some other configuration of study, as long as the Bible is the focus of your group session, you’re headed in the right direction.
One way to start the small group is to spend time in fellowship and prayer. First, ask people what prayer requests they have, and then allow conversation and ministry to happen among one another for about thirty minutes. After everyone has shared their prayer requests, ask people to pray for one another. After this, wrap up the prayer time and go into the Word together. This way, there is fellowship, prayer, and time in the Word. I suggest this order because it’s often more important for people to have a time of prayer with each other than it is to “go deep” in a discussion on Scripture. If there is one area often neglected in the Church today, it is that of prayer for one another.
I want to come back to asking questions because, not only do we not talk enough about small groups, but there is not enough conversation in the Church about the value of asking questions and answering them in a small group. Since small groups are meant for encouraging spiritual growth, we should encourage everyone to ask any and all questions they have. No question should be off-limits. As we explore the text, our answers should always be explained through a Biblical lens. At times further study of the subject may be required before an adequate answer can be given. When that is the case, the person facilitating the discussion should take notes and make the effort to follow up on the issue at hand so that a response can be given at the next small group meeting.
The point of having questions and an answer time is that small groups provide a safe place for people to ask questions without judgment and without getting any dirty looks for not knowing what people should know. The goal of small groups is to provide a safe place for people in our local churches to receive care, prayer, ask questions, and fellowship with one another. Small group leaders should know the essentials of the faith and be able to explain them. They should be humble, faithful, servant leaders, willing to study and learn, and already know sound doctrine.
Over the years, I’ve been increasingly thankful both for the small groups I’ve been privileged to lead in the local church and those small groups I’ve participated in as a non-leader. If you are in a local church—and you should be—you should also be in a small group to do life with fellow Christians; to receive prayer, encouragement, support, and learn and grow in the faith.