This is important because human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26a, 27). The “image of God” means that human character is a reflection of God’s character. We are not exact replicas of God, but we are representations or likenesses of God. This means that human beings are, like the Triune God, relational creatures. God created us with the capacity to give and receive love. We are made for relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.
God’s nature is revealed in the relationships within the Trinity: the Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Father and Son love the Holy Spirit. Each person is unique in character and work. At the same time each person participates in the life and work of the others.
An excellent illustration of the relational nature of the image of God and its importance to human lives and communities is the southern African concept known as ubuntu that teaches: I am because we are. It means that I can only become fully me as long I am in relationship with you. Ubuntu is rooted in the belief that all people are created in the image of God and that fact determines our value, meaning, and potential. To be fully human, therefore, is to be part of a community of love and forgiveness. Ubuntu tells us that we cannot be fully human apart from community. We become fully the persons God created us to be only within the relationships made possible in community. Our relationship with God is shaped by our relationships with others whom God loves.
When Christians meet in small groups to pray, to study Scripture, to be in fellowship, and to serve they find Christ in one another because they form relationships of love and trust. Certainly Sunday morning worship and general congregational activities play an essential role, but on their own they are not adequate substitutes for the relationships formed in small groups. This is why gathering together in small groups is essential to the church’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Today, we may describe small groups as gatherings of 3 to 15 people who meet regularly (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) to help one another grow in holiness of heart and life and to help the congregation participate in God’s mission in the world. Group members attend to the ways that God is at work in their lives and do all in their power to cooperate with God’s grace. The group meets to watch over one another in love. They support and encourage one another in the practice of missional and incarnational discipleship.
Steven W. Manskar, Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2013–2016 – Small Group Ministries: Christian Formation through Mutual Accountability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2012).