The Bible tells us that the small groups in New Testament times pursued the biblical purposes of fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism, and worship. It was true then and it’s true now that a healthy group will be focused on balancing those purposes.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47 TNIV)
The small groups that met in homes, as recorded in the book of Acts, were a strategic part of the greater church, just as your small group is a strategic part of your church.
- Fellowship: “They joined in the fellowship . . . and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” That’s important in the body of Christ—recognizing that I am a part of God’s family and we are going to fellowship together. When you look at the New Testament, this is exactly what Christ did. He gathered a group of twelve guys and hung out with them. They ate together, learned together, and shared in each other’s lives. Not only will true fellowship connect you and your members to each other, but it will also connect all of you to Christ.
- Discipleship: The Bible says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” That means they devoted themselves to growing in Christ and maturity. Evidently they not only listened to what the disciples were teaching in the temple courts (equivalent to our church) on the Sabbath and other days but also gathered in their homes and studied together what they had been taught in the temple courts. Doing a Bible study is just one piece of discipleship. It’s not only learning about the Word of God but also bringing its truth into every aspect of our lives. It is about helping each other identify and take our spiritual next step.
- Ministry: They gave “to anyone who had need.” These groups became an outlet of support for each other and for other members of the church. Your small group needs to be more than just a meeting that happens on a Tuesday night. Your members need to be engaged in ministry, which is simply meeting the needs of people within your church (as well as within your small group). Ministry is another word for service—serving one another in practical ways. Sometimes the ministry will take place right in your groups as people walk through a crisis together. Or it may be something as simple as giving a group member a ride to the airport or getting together as a group and painting a room in the church. This often leads to members discovering how God has gifted them in a way that is perfectly suited for service in your church.
- Evangelism: That was their mission. Ministry is a way of serving other believers. Mission is serving the world (and unbelievers) at large. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Your group also should have a mission to the world and a ministry to the church. That world includes your neighborhood, your community, and the rest of the world. It can start as simply praying for your neighbors and could then progress to planning activities designed for building bridges with those who are not followers of Christ. People are attracted to the changes they see taking place in the lives of healthy Christians. Your group can serve as a magnet for drawing people to Christ. Every small group has the potential to participate in and contribute to personal, local, and global missions.
- Worship: “They devoted themselves . . . to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . [They were] praising God.” These early Christians worshiped in their homes. And what was the result? “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” Worship is not just the music we experience during the weekend service. Worship is about surrendering your life to Christ so you can live more abundantly and become more like Christ in nature. Small groups help members become more transparent as they receive the support they need to flourish in their Christian walk. This increased transparency provides the fertile ground for worship.
Steve Gladen and John Ortberg, Leading Small Groups with Purpose: Everything You Need to Lead a Healthy Group (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012).
We have just released a new Bible Study, Small Group Tune Up.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.