On Sunday mornings, we walk into our sanctuary, grab a cup of coffee, and chat with friends. Our friends may ask us how we are doing, how our children are, or how work is going. We raise our hands in unity and clap on beat to the worship music, and then, we scrawl furiously in our notebooks to take notes and remember the pastor's Bible teaching. Then we leave for the week, only to put aside the corporate worship experience and go out into the world. We then reconvene the following Sunday, never allowing our Sunday experience and our daily lives to intertwine.
Small groups are the most effective way to create community and allow people an intimate look into our lives. The current Sunday morning model is not set up for an intimate culture. At best, congregation members keep conversations at a superficial level, so we'll never get into the deep spiritual support and wisdom community can provide. If you are looking for an intimate connection within the community of the Body of Christ who will champion for you in your triumphs and encourage you in your discouragements, the small group model is where it's at.
Here are five ways small groups are impactful:
1. They Help Us Enjoy Community
Throughout the Bible, no person does life alone. The disciples were sent out two-by-two to meet the needs of their communities. Jesus often took two or three people with him when he ministered. This is clear throughout both the Old and New Testaments. We were never meant to do life alone. We need each other to help us through difficult times and rejoice with us during the good times. As people meet regularly within the small group model, community is created. When a member of the small group has a prayer need, the first person they go to is usually in their small group. The entire congregation is not meant to know every little detail about every person in the church. It is impossible to keep up that standard. But with the creation of small groups, people in groups of 10-12 can get to know each other in an intimate way, and those people can be prophets and priests to each other.
2. We Study God’s Word
Most small groups use a particular book of the Bible or the pastor’s sermon as a focus for the group. After groups begin in prayer, they often study a particular Bible passage. It is here that those who have the spiritual gift of teaching teach others more about God's Word. Furthermore, it is here that each person can share what God has placed on their heart: 1 Corinthians 14:26 says, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” The small group model is the place and time for people to share a hymn or verse that God has been speaking to them to encourage the rest of the group.
3. Spiritual Gifts Are Explored
1 Corinthians 12:8-11 highlights the spiritual gifts given to each person in the Body of Christ: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
Yet, the current church model is not set up for everyone to be able to use their spiritual gifts. However, they can use their spiritual gifts within a small group model. Each person with the gift of teaching can take a turn facilitating the discussion. Those with encouragement can add a word of encouragement for each person. A person with the gift of prophecy can test a prophetic word that they have been chewing on for the week in front of this community. If a person is unsure what their spiritual gifts are, the group can take a week and conduct a spiritual gifts inventory. They can score the inventories together and discover their spiritual gifts. Each person can go around the room, stating what their spiritual gifts are as revealed in the test. Other members who know them well can then affirm or question the gifts. Once the spiritual gifts are discovered, the small group leader can brainstorm ways each person can use their spiritual gifts within this small group setting. This is a great way to involve each person so that they can make a difference within the Kingdom and make a direct impact for the local church and community.
4. Trust and Intimacy Develop
When the small group first meets, the host should initiate a covenant that each person signs. Within the covenant, it will explain the expectations and requirements to attend this small group. If a small group is going to be successful, the expectations must be set high. People cannot flit in and out whenever it's convenient. They must commit to the small group to attend most of its sessions. This will help develop trust and intimacy within the group. People who then quit the group will upset the dynamic and flow of the group setting. People cannot trust one another if their attendance is not regular. They cannot get to know someone intimately without meeting with them regularly. That's why group attendance is so vital. Each person must commit to putting away their cell phone and being completely engaged in the discussion. Proverbs 27:17 says it best: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Each person sharpens the other when they get into a small group setting regardless of the topic of conversation. One member can challenge the other in a particular area once trust is developed within the group. Each person greatly benefits when each person is sharpened to display more Christlike behavior.
5. We Share Intimate Prayer Requests
Most churches can send out a group text or e-mail when a member has a specific prayer need. Prayer can start with a small group member's neighbor who has cancer or a friends in need. While these are important to God, the most intimate requests come out during a small group setting. This is where people share the intimate details about their struggling marriage, their repetitive sin, or other emotional issues hindering them from having an intimate relationship with Christ. These are not things that would go out to a whole congregation but rather shared only within a smaller setting. Small groups allow for intimacy and private prayer requests to be shared among members who have taken the time to get to know one another.
Although a small group within different churches might have a different look, when done successfully, they all can foster community, build trust and intimacy, allow people to explore their spiritual gifts, and ultimately replicate leaders. These leaders will then multiply these groups and make the small group model the primary way for people to connect and understand and demonstrate Jesus’ presence in their lives.
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Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.