When I (John) was in college, I was involved in Christian and nonreligious small groups on campus. I enjoyed getting together, and I gained much from these groups. But I will never forget the night that for me instantly transformed a Christian college group to a Group.
The group was an informal combination of Bible study, discussion, and life sharing. I liked all the things I was learning, I liked the people, and it was interesting. I felt that God was using it to help me grow. Dan, the facilitator, was a warm, personable student a couple of years older than the rest of us. I was drawn by his attitude and maturity. One night, however, he started the group by saying, “Hey, I am really struggling with lust and sexual temptation, and I need to let you guys know what is going on so you can help me and pray for me.” As he talked about the struggle, a chain reaction occurred; the rest of us started chiming in about how tough the sexual purity battle was for us, too.
This may be normal for your group, but for me it was world shattering. It was my first experience of sane, healthy, open discussion with other guys about sex. Until then any conversation I’d had about sex had been limited to two categories: not so edifying, or quick, embarrassed agreement that we should avoid sexual sin. But that night Dan helped us open up our lives, hearts, and emotions. I came away pretty shaken up inside, but in a good way. I felt connected to the other guys in a way I had never experienced before. It was as if deeper parts of me had a place to go, where we were all the same.
What had become a Group didn’t talk about sex every week, but the people and what happened there became more important to me. Something changed within me. Though I still got the same things I’d originally come to the group for—spiritual growth, learning, friendship—I began receiving another spiritual benefit I hadn’t signed up for. That surprising benefit was the possibility of being connected, heart and soul, to God and others without having to edit, pretend, or hold back.
My point is that small groups provide benefits beyond the scope of their context, topic, or materials. While what people learn is very important, the group experience itself changes members’ hearts in subtle ways. The beneficial connections created through the small group experience produce other fundamental benefits that have to do with what the Bible calls sanctification, being set apart and cleansed for God’s service. These benefits are honesty, integration of character, and normalizing struggle. Thus small groups help heal, grow, mature, and repair people so they are fit and ready to be used by and for God. Small groups are that important.
The Bible teaches that all of life has consequences: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). We often see only the warning part of this passage, but the reality is that squarely facing real life and its consequences can be good and positive, not just painful and negative. Loving, responsible, and honest sowing can produce a good harvest for us. The rewarding consequences of being in a growing small group make it worth all the time we spend sowing our lives in them.
Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2010). Making small groups work: what every small group leader needs to know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.