Article by Topher Smith
I love what I’ve been learning about church small groups in the context of the local church! I looked at small groups as a way to stay connected and have more pastoring of the body with hands-on life discipleship. I wasn’t thinking big enough. In both Acts chapters 2 and 20 we see a picture of how to do church. The believers met in a public meeting like the way that we do our Sunday Services. And they also met from house to house, eating together and doing life with each other while focused on Jesus. I’ve learned that not only do small groups provide these two elements, but they do WAY more than that.
To summarize what I’ve learned I have broken down the “more” into five additional points. 1) It’s a part of the original plan God had for church. 2) It’s a vehicle for the vision of the leader and the church. 3) It’s a way to empower your leaders. 4) It’s the best model for the mobilization. 5) It’s one of the most efficient ways to plant a church.
Your first small group should be with the leaders of your church. As the pastor you carry the vision for what God is doing. That vision needs to be communicated to your leaders first. As your primary leaders pick up and carry the vision, being able to articulate it well, then each of those leaders can then communicate the vision with you to secondary leaders. This begins the culture shift in the local church. Change and growth both have to come from the leadership first.
As you cast the vision to the leaders you also pull out what they carry and who they are in Christ. The more that they step into their identity the more they will take ownership of the growth and forward momentum that is happening in your church expression. Small group is a great way for your leaders to be empowered to express who they are while walking toward their individual destiny. As they do this in the group setting it is adding to your church health and culture. There are more opportunities for your leaders to lead weekly in multiple small groups than in one Sunday corporate service. Individual growth should be your priority, but just slightly above the corporate growth. This structure creates strong, healthy, and empowered leaders.
Church small groups also create a family environment on a personal level that is hard to have in a corporate setting. The group is where more people can be raised up to fulfill their individual destiny and calling. Each leader raises up another person to do what they are doing, and mentors them intimately toward what God created them for. As each small group grows, it creates more opportunity for many different people to step into leadership that isn’t possible at the corporate meeting. If there are 10 church small groups, you can have 10 worship leaders, 10 apostolic leaders of each group, 10 teachers, etc.
I have never thought about doing small groups first in the timeline when trying to plant a church. The two church plants that I’ve been a part of began as one group that grew larger over time. The first plant was in a home and outgrowing the home we found a public space to rent. The second was a plant from a church that we held in a rented space before we had people. This was funded by the original church but created to get more people involved than we could with the smaller church in the original city. I always thought of church small groups being necessary when you got too large to pastor each person well. However, I have seen how a small cell of people, grows into two small cells, and into four small cells, just like our body grows as we are created in our mother’s womb. You don’t begin life with a body and then add the organs when you have enough materials for them. We begin life as a cell that multiplies, and multiplies, repeating over and over again. Eventually you have enough people and resources to begin the corporate meetings, but beginning with small groups just makes sense!
Small groups are a huge part, if not the biggest part of the church life, and key to church health. The last words from Jesus as He ascended were to make disciples and go into all nations. He didn’t say have a great Sunday service. Corporate meeting is something that we cannot forsake, but the majority of our energies should be invested in the people not the corporate expression. Family reunions are great but life happens in the home.