In churches across the United States people show up on Sunday as the worship music is playing, sit down, listen to the sermon, and leave as the final song(s) are played by the worship team, not to been seen until the following Sunday, and often not until the next Christmas or Easter service. These people don’t get involved in the church, often not knowing many people in the church or even being known. These churches are like a river that is a mile wide yet only an inch deep. Leaders know this is not what Jesus intended the church to be and so to break this pattern, many churches use small groups as a means for developing community and getting these people more involved in the local body of Christ.
While they often go by many names such as life groups, discipleship groups, home fellowships, community groups and any number of other names, small groups have become the term used as the primary means of discipleship in the current church in America. Most churches have some sort of small group occurring. This is a great thing when done well for it is only through small groups where relationships can grow and authentic discipleship occurs. These groups are the primary means for building up churches both in the quality of people and the number of people involved. Through the natural course of building up disciples, if the groups continue to follow the instructions and lifestyle exemplified by Christ, they will start to share Jesus with others and disciple those who believe in Jesus in a continual chain as Christ is shared with the whole world through their communities.
Churches are the primary means in which small groups are operated. It is typically through a church where people find small groups to join as well as small groups to lead. As Earley brought up, most churches function in a role where small groups function in the role where the church works with small groups. This is opposed to being consisting of small groups or being a collection of small groups. Regardless of where a church is, they can incorporate small groups in some way. There has been an emphasis over the last 30 years where small groups can be led by any Christian, and while it does seem good on the surface, leading a small group is more than just pressing play on a video and then facilitating a discussion. Discipleship is so much more than this, and therefore pastors need to be committed to training and discipling leaders for the small groups taking place in their church. Pastors train the leaders of the small groups, so the leaders of the small groups can grow more disciples for the purpose of furthering community and growth both of the church as a whole and individuals. It is important for all churches to work on building more small groups with qualified leaders. “No matter where a church may be on the trajectory, if it all, it can initiate a small-group ministry, or transition to a greater emphasis on small groups.”
When the term disciple is used, there is often a bit of a stigma attached to it. Often the word disciple conjures up images of the 12 Disciples who traveled with Jesus which is perfectly fine for them, but most Christians are content to just be Christians. The idea of disciple seems foreign and extreme, and is exactly what Jesus has called the world to. His call is to make disciples of all nations. Never did Jesus call for more converts, He called for those who would forsake everything and follow Him. All too often the church is guilty of letting people take the easy way out. However, Jesus called the church to be a group of believers living in relationship with one another. Disciples are called to constantly be doing things that require contact and relationship from bearing one another’s burdens to forgiving sins. For how can there be sins to forgive if there is no contact? Even Jesus’ final command, has to do with relationship. “The Great Commission (teaching them to observe), the implications of being members of a body (implying close connection), the ‘one anothers’ (more than thirty-five different injunctions for us to live out the New Commandment), the concept that we are brothers and sisters living in a family all illustrate that the best way to make disciples is in a relational context.” We cannot make true disciples without being invested in their lives. This requires investing time into people, even after we’ve been hurt and burned. “The community of saints is not the ‘ideal’ church-community of the sinless and the perfect…rather it is the church-community that shows itself worthy of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins by truly proclaiming God’s forgiveness.” This is part of what we must transfer to other disciples so we can continue to proclaim the gospel to the world thereby fulfilling the great commission and showing the love of Christ to the world. This is how we also fulfill the greatest commandment, namely to love our neighbors.
The purpose of the small group is to build more disciples. “A leader must encourage all members of the group to become shepherds themselves. In order to guide create an effective relational environment, leaders must intentionally guide their small group members into caring for one another.” It is through caring for one another that authentic disciple making happens. Then when we grow in Christ, the caring for disciples will naturally extend to reaching the lost. It has been said that being a Christian means caring for what Christ cares for, in this case, he cares for people. Christians cannot make disciples of all nations on their own, it is only through multiplying more disciples who thereby look for others to disciple that the Great Commission is fulfilled. Furthermore, any Christian who thinks they can make disciples of those already in the church is partially foolish and partially ignorant. While there are people in the church who need to grow, the majority of the work needs to be done with bringing people to Christ and discipling them from the conversion onward. We cannot expect the world to come to us, particularly when we are commanded to go to the world.
The practical aspect of this occurs when small groups meet to do things in their community ranging from singing Christmas carols to helping out at a soup kitchen. There are many areas and many ways small groups can get involved in their communities. But when they do, it is important to not only meet their physical needs but also their spiritual needs. If we give someone food, but do not tell them about Jesus, the one that can save their life, we do nothing for them, and it can be argued we are condemning them to Hell by keeping the gospel to ourselves and showing them hatred by not telling them of the only thing (Jesus) that can save not just their physical body, but their eternal lives.
As for myself, I am leading a small group with my wife as we seek to further the growth of those God has brought into our sphere of influence. In this, we are discipling a small group and seek to bring more small groups to the church we are involved in. With this, we open up our home and have dinner with the small group and then incorporate a Bible study time. Beyond this time though, we do seek to meet with those in our small group outside of the time set aside for this. I also seek to have a couple of the people that I’m discipling start their own group by the end of next year.
Small groups need to be the focus of any church. It is through small groups that authentic disciples are made, that lives are changed, and that we fulfill the Great Comission and the greatest commandment. Without small groups being and integral part of the church, the body of Christ as a whole suffers. Discipleship occurs best in small group settings, and it is important for all Christians to be part of a small group for multiple reasons, but most importantly so we can have fellowship with one another and love our neighbors and bear one another’s burdens.
Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003.
Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010.
Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, Evangelism is…:How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, Nashville: B&H Publishing 2010, 279.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, 279.
 Earley, Dave & David Wheeler, 276.
 Boenhoffer, Deitrich, Discipleship, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2003, 269.
 Putnam, Jim et al, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Dsiciples, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 188.