What is a Small Group?
How are Small Groups different?
Essentially when discussing Small Group Discipleship, we have to investigate the traditional Sunday School Discipleship method. To do so, we need to first lay some concrete foundations. First the strengths:
- Sunday School has been an effective means of discipleship for the church throughout the years specializing in teaching knowledge of the Bible to children all the way to adulthood.
- Many individuals have served in churches as Sunday School teachers and are responsible for many of the preachers preaching in pulpits today. They are responsible for laying the foundation of the Word of God in countless lives from childhood to adulthood.
- Sunday School successfully instilled Bible stories into the lives of most church people so that a pastor could easily reference a story in the Bible and it would be recognized.
- Situated conveniently ahead of the morning worship service, Sunday School was easy for many to be involved in as many were already coming to the worship service to begin with.
- Sunday School has in large part been very lecture oriented where one teacher speaks for 45 minutes or so while the class listens.
- Due to a constrained time frame (must be done so service can begin), natural discussion, prayer, and fellowship are unlikely to take place in a Sunday School setting if the lesson is to be taught in its entirety.
- Being situated immediately before the Sunday morning worship service leads participants to come early to church, sit and listen to a teacher for 45 minutes, and then leave to hear a preacher for 45 minutes. In many scenarios, individuals are expected back on Sunday evenings for another service and another sermon of 45 minutes or so. In a standard Sunday, an individual hears usually three different 45 minute sermons/lessons. Basic life teaches us from experience that the ability to remember, store, and apply all of those sessions is improbable. In short, we may be guilty of spiritual overeating, that is, taking in so much good stuff that we are not able to enjoy what we're taking in without thinking about the next time we get together.
- Curriculum can be very costly for a church and after buying it, there are no guarantees of its usage.
Small Group Discipleship looks to take the really good things about Sunday School and give the freedom to be used to help lead and disciple people for the Lord. Small Group Discipleship still has teaching, but it is more discussion oriented rather than lecture oriented. Small Group Discipleship still has set meeting times and places, but more time is available for discussion, learning, fellowship, and prayer. Small Group Discipleship can still take place on a Sunday morning if desired, but it also allows individuals to choose the option of focusing on what takes place in the Sunday services while gathering for discipleship at a time when it's the only spiritual focus of the day.
It's important to understand that Small Group Discipleship is not an attack on Sunday School. We readily encourage any church who is finding success in discipleship by using Sunday School to keep doing it. It's not about the method. It's about the results. We're called to be disciples and make disciples. Jesus didn't tell us exactly what method to use. He did tell us the expectations, and for us, that has led us to Small Group Discipleship.
How do Small Groups work?
In our Small Group Discipleship program, we will be setting up groups to meet for a Semester (16-18 weeks) at a time. Typically this is long enough for the group to go through two, maybe three studies, before the Semester ends. Groups will be categorically arranged. For example, there may be a women's group which would obviously be for women. We may have a marriage / couples group which would spend the semester discussing relationships and marriage. There may be spiritual growth groups, prayer groups, evangelism groups, or Biblical knowledge groups. Each semester, individuals will have the option to sign up for whichever track they feel they need to be in. Relationships will be developed. Spiritual growth will take place.
Who can lead a Small Group?
We have a training course put together for Small Group Discipleship Leadership that all prospective small group leaders will attend and participate in. Small group leaders are accountable to the leadership of the church. Small groups are not free entities unto themselves. These are not mini-churches. They are opportunities for the church to grow outside of the church building into the homes of our everyday lives. After someone has completed the leadership training and has been a part of a small group themselves, they will be set forth to lead a small group. In our program, both myself and our Discipleship Pastor, Josh Buchanan, will help oversee leaders and groups throughout the semester. There is a strong system of accountability as we all work together under the church's vision.
So if you have a desire to reach others, minister to others, develop meaningful relationships, and use the blessings of God in your life to do ministry, you have what it takes to be a small group leader.
Who can attend a Small Group?
If you're a new convert, you can be in a small group. If you're someone that's been in church all your life, you can be in a small group. If you're somewhere in the middle, you can be in a small group. Anyone and everyone can be a part of these groups once they are launched.
Are Small Groups Biblical?
Many people look at the New Testament church and say things like, "If we could get back to doing what the early church did . . ." and "If it was good enough for Paul . . . " or "We need a real move of God like the early church had . . ." One of the most important things the early church did was get together on a regular basis in homes. They had the temple experience, where the temple was available, where everyone gathered for a "service." Then they had the home experience. As one leader in small group discipleship stated, "The problem in today's church is too many people are trying to get the close, relational home experience from the large, crowded temple experience. " In other words, if someone is just coming to a Sunday morning service or even an evening service, their growth probably won't be as deep as someone who also attends a small group discipleship offering in that he or she has the option of asking questions, getting real feedback, and gaining a true understanding to accompany the experience received. Many times it's not a lack of experience our churches are suffering from. It's a lack of knowledge of what to do with the experience and feelings felt during a worship service that frustrates, confuses, and ultimately dissuades individuals from committing and growing. In Acts 2:42-47, Luke gives us the ingredients behind the early church's revival. He states that they met together in the temple and then later on in one another's homes. They incorporated the large group and small group dynamics and the church exploded.
Here are a few examples of Small Group Discipleship in the New Testament:
- Jesus formed a group of 12 men to pour into though He had 70+ followers/disciples during His ministry
- John the Baptist preached to the multitudes a message of repentance, but had his own small group of disciples.
- After receiving the promise of the Holy Ghost, the church is said to have entered into breaking bread (taking Communion) and fellowship from house to house and the Lord added to the church daily.
- After Paul planted a church, he instructed them to meet in one another's houses as illustrated by his opening and closing remarks in many of his epistles.
- The Philippian church ultimately found its beginning with Lydia leading a small group by the river.
It's clear that the early church met in small groups and it was certainly their practice to meet during the week in one another's homes. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have to meet in one another's homes to do discipleship. Having discipleship at the church in classrooms is certainly fine if disciples are being made. But if we really want to do the early church's practice, they undeniably met in one another's homes and according to Acts 2:42, they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine. There was accountability, vision, and direction. The early church took the Great Commission seriously and understood that just preaching and sharing the Gospel was not their only job. Jesus told them to not only preach and share, but to make disciples as well.
Our Small Group Discipleship program isn't perfect by any means. Every man made program will have flaws because man isn't perfect. But what we desire to do is fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples. God has blessed our church to almost triple in the course of a year or more. The vast majority of the growth has been from new converts or individuals rededicating their lives back to the Lord. We want to see people go beyond the Sunday morning experience, and we want to equip them to know Christ more, to be like Him more, and to learn how to share Him more. In short, it's our way of trying to fulfill the Great Commission giving to the church by Jesus Christ.