Fall... It's my absolute favorite time of year. It's the perfect time for get-togethers, neighborhood kids playing in the afternoons, coffee with friends in the mornings. This is the perfect opportunity to start (or join) a small group and really take advantage of having a consistent time to get to know some women, or couples, really well.
I wholeheartedly believe small groups are one of the best tools we have to growing our church, our relationships, and our faith. I say that because I've seen the amazing amount of growth that takes place in them and I've lived through a season where I didn't put importance in being involved in them and subsequently saw my relationship with God suffer.
Think about it... In general, we need support from friends or groups to really stick with anything, exercising, dieting, hobbies... It's how we're built. We thrive in community and we flounder in isolation. So why should our walk in faith and study of God's word be any different? To really become a student of the Word and stay committed to learning and growing, we need small groups. They provide the encouragement, excitement and accountability necessary to make the most out of our study. And they give us a sounding board to talk out some of the difficult to understand parts of scripture.
I grew up in small groups, participated and led them in college and early on in my marriage and career. Then we moved and it took us a long time to find our home at Covenant. During that time, I didn't put much importance on small groups and I am sad to say I know how much my faith became stagnant during that time. Once we found our church, I jumped headfirst back into small groups, first as a participant and then as a leader, and the difference was staggering. I have seen God do some amazing thing through our women, in myself, and in those our small group ministers to, and I have been blessed by some truly amazing friendships along the way. Small groups are not negotiable for me now. They are an integral part of who I am and who I want to become.
Being an active part of a small group gives you an opportunity for a front row and watching God do His thing! You will see Him actively working in the lives of people you will grow close to and love. You will see Him changing hearts and community. So, if you are feeling led to start or join a small group, do it! You don’t have a doctorate in theology to lead a study. We just have to dig in and learn along with our group! It’s our job as small group hosts to facilitate discussion and create an environment where the Spirit can move. Then we need to just get out of the way and let God do His work!
If you're considering starting a small group, or even if you are active in one, there are a few things we can do to get the biggest impact out of our time together. Acts 2 describes an overall framework for a group that is going to make a difference in our lives as well as the lives around us.
They devoted (commitment) themselves to the apostles teaching (scripture), to fellowship (community), breaking of bread (enjoying life together) and prayer (praying for each other). Let's break it down and look at how we make that a reality.
Make sure consistent attendance in your group is encouraged. The more group members put into the group, the more they will get out of it. Everyone has a bad week where you're traveling, kids are sick or work is demanding, but encourage everyone to come anyway. They will still benefit greatly from the fellowship and from just hearing the discussion.
Stay in the Word! The temptation of leading a group is to use the platform for personal agendas or opinions. The second we begin doing that, we run a real risk of misleading a group away from sound scriptural teaching. Instead, make sure you stay true to the scriptures first, study material second, and then you'll know what personal opinions (if any) are appropriate and will foster good discussions to help the group learn more about God.
Acts says "All the believers were together and had everything in common." Don't misunderstand this to mean your group needs to look like cookie cutter people with identical beliefs and personalities. In fact, I encourage you to do the exact opposite. Some of the most dynamic groups I have been involved with welcomed those from other churches, other denominations, and the non-churched in to the group with open arms. Ages ranged from early 20s to late 60s. We had members who were fairly affluent and those who were barely scraping by with government assistance. On the surface we did not have everything. But we did have everything, that matters, in common - a desire to grow in our relationship with Christ, with each other, and to serve our communities. The different backgrounds and perspectives give so much more depth to conversations about Scripture. Welcome diversity in your groups and think community when you're looking for people to invite.
Fostering a heart of service in your group is crucial. We can study all we want about the gospel and become scholars, but according to James, faith without works is dead. So as a small group host, it's crucial to encourage your group (and yourself) to live out what you're learning, to see God working in the community, and to reach out to bring in the new un-churched people into a small group. If we're not doing that, then what is the point?
Enjoying Life Together
While you want the focus to be on the study and discussion, you also want to allow time for the group to get to know one another. If you're limited on time or have a very demanding study, then you may want to consider having a couple of social activities that take place outside of the normal group time (e.g. Christmas party, painting nights, play dates at parks). They allow time for conversations to happen and friendships to grow.
Once those friendships begin to solidify, create an atmosphere in your discussion time that encourages members to open up about their struggles, prayer requests, or how they are seeing God work in their lives. Remember, this starts with you being vulnerable first and setting the stage for your group members to be honest about what is going on in their lives. It also means celebrating together when God enters into those areas and brings healing, peace and growth. Acts talks about how they were in awe at the signs and wonders. Some of the most wondrous signs I have seen have been miracles worked in the lives of people I was in small groups with. To be honest and vulnerable together and celebrate God's work in your lives together is an incredible experience.
Praying for Each Other
There is so much to be said about the importance of prayer in a small group. Create an environment of confidentiality, where people are free to ask for prayer for anything and where the group is committed to praying for one another. Praying together unleashes the power of prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit within the group. You will see God doing amazing things in the lives of yourself and your group members.
If something in this post strikes a chord with you or you have been considering starting, leading or joining a small group, now is the perfect time! Embrace this fall as the opportunity to meet together with glad and sincere hearts, to praise God and enjoy the friends in your life.
If God has led you into the wonderful opportunity to host a small group, it's going to be an exciting ride and you're about to learn more than you ever thought possible. You're going to be in a humbling and incredible position to see God moving mountains within your group, watching people become Christians and watching new Christians fall in love all over again with Christ. It's a role that comes with responsibility but with a tremendous amount of blessings. Enjoy it. Grow in it. But always, always, let the Holy Spirit lead.