Emmanuel Church Blog

4 Dos When it Comes to Small Group Ministry

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This blog is the second part of two blog posts related to small group ministry at Emmanuel Church. To read part one click here.

4 Dos when it comes to small group ministry

 1. Use the small group

In my experience, you get out of small group what you put into it. Avail yourself of all that a good small group can offer. Use your small group as a platform for community, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer in the church. Develop intentional relationships with the people in your small group. As most small groups meet mid-week, seek to view small group as a special gift from Christ to your needy soul as you labor through a busy week. I have often found small group to be like an oasis in which I get to focus my thoughts and affections on Christ and his body. This is so necessary especially when you find yourself in the middle of a difficult week.

The Bible does not require that the church organize a small group program. However, if your church offers small groups, make them part of your weekly/monthly rhythm. Use these opportunities to lean in to life among the church body.

2. PRAY!

Small groups can serve many good purposes, but I think one of the very best uses of the small group time is for prayer. The small group environment is a context in which more intimate personal prayer needs can be shared. If a small group is limited to 10-15 people, it’s quite possible that every individual can share prayer requests. Not only that, depending on how the time is structured, it’s possible that almost every individual in the group can pray for someone else. Small groups also accommodate a natural environment for pursuing continuity in our prayers. It makes it easy to follow up on previous prayer requests that have been shared and to bring the same issues before the Lord on a consistent basis.

If your small group makes prayer a part of your regular meetings together, let me encourage you to consider designating someone to keep track of prayers that have been shared in the group that God has answered. As a general rule, we do not thank God for answered prayer as much as we should,

3. Open up

Most small groups are designed to provide some opportunities that corporate gatherings simply can’t provide. It is unlikely that every member of the church will get to speak in a worship service. It’s unlikely that every member will get to pray or share a prayer request at a corporate prayer meeting. In small group however, everyone can voice a prayer request, an edifying comment, or a thoughtful question.

Since facilitating intimacy among the group is one of the goals of small group ministry, don’t be afraid to be intimate. Open up with your brothers and sisters. Talk about what Christ is teaching you in your Christian walk. Talk about things in your life that are difficult or challenging. Share encouragements from God’s Word. Avail yourself of the opportunity to open up to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Don’t lose sight of the goal

A church I used to be a member of summarized the goal of their small group ministry as pursuing growth together. I think that’s an excellent summary of how small groups ought to be utilized in the life of the church. It should be recognized that this mission is not exclusive to small group ministry, but would apply also to corporate gatherings, Sunday school classes, one-on-one discipleship, etc. However, it ought to be stated nonetheless that this is indeed the goal of our small groups. We are seeking to grow together in our knowledge of God and His Word. We are seeking to grow alongside one another as followers of Christ. An effective and healthy small group ministry will never lose sight of this goal.

4 Don'ts When it Comes to Small Group Ministry

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As of this week our small group ministry is fully underway. We currently have groups meeting regionally every other week. The groups are broadly organized around sermon discussion, prayer, and fellowship. They meet midweek either on Wednesday or Thursday and usually run from 7-8:30pm. Groups also occasionally share a meal together in which case they may begin their meeting a little earlier.

This is the first of two posts on what I’m calling “4 dos and don’ts when it comes to small group.” Today, I’ll take a look a 4 don’ts when it comes to small group ministry.

4 Don’ts when it comes to small group ministry

 1. Don’t allow your small group to become a church within the church.

We’ve all either seen it happen, or heard of it happening…a small group can so easily become a functional church in and of itself. The members of the small group look to the group exclusively to fulfill the “one another” passages of Scripture. They look exclusively to the small group for community. They look exclusively to the small group for personal help, encouragement, and hospitality. The small group can almost become a sacred sphere of people within the church, and it’s only within that sacred sphere that we allow ourselves to live out church life in its fullness.

Small groups can certainly embody a more intimate sphere of fellowship within the church. However, they must never be seen as embodying the totality of church life. Every member of the church needs every other member of the church, and that means people in the church who are outside of our small groups. We owe our covenant commitments to each member of the body.

This is one of the reasons we at Emmanuel are committed to rotating small groups every couple of years or so. This allows the long-term member at Emmanuel Church to experience a smaller more intimate fellowship group with every single member of the church over the course of several years.

2. Don’t allow your small group to displace corporate gatherings.

The church in its fullness is the church gathered. The term most often used for the church is the ekklesia or the assembly. Gathered worship services of the church represent the fulcrum and climax of church life.

However, in this day and age, small groups can often displace corporate gatherings. Many feel more comfortable in small group environments than they do in the corporate gatherings of the church. Pastors and leaders must labor to promote the glories of the public gatherings of the church. It is to these corporate gatherings of Christ’s people that the Lord directs some of His most wonderful promises. It should be noted that a detailed study of the relevant passages would lead one to conclude that many of these promises pertain only to the gathered church body, and not to small groups within the church that may choose to meet throughout the week.

Small groups can represent a vital aspect of the church’s ministry, but they cannot replace gathered worship.

3. Don’t allow your small group to become a substitute for the personal intentional pursuit of community among God’s people.

Having participated in a number of different small groups over the last 10 years or so, I’ve become a big fan of small group ministry. Over the last 10 years, I’ve found myself regularly looking forward to meeting with my small group. Part of the reason I love small groups so much is because they provide a more intimate time of fellowship, prayer, and Bible study with a limited number of people in the church.

However, one danger to be avoided is allowing your small group to become the end all be all of your experience of community in the church. An every other week small group cannot replace showing regular hospitality in the home. A small group cannot replace pursuing a needy brother or sister in the church for one-on-one coffee or breakfast. A small group cannot replace spontaneous opportunities to spend time with other Christians within the body of Christ for mutual fellowship and encouragement.

The Bible would seem to advocate a daily experience of community within the body of Christ (Acts 2:46-47; Heb. 3:13). This does not mean we need to physically see our brothers and sisters in the church every day. Praise God for the ability we have in this day and age to text, email, call, and skype one another. But the fact is, gathering intentionally with others in the church for an hour every other week will not cut it. As Rosaria Butterfield has often put it, the church in America is on “a starvation diet of community.” An every other week small group is no substitute for engaging in regular Christian community throughout the week.

Small groups are best utilized as a help toward fostering community in the church, but not the end all be all of the church’s practice of community. 

4. Don’t allow your small group leader to replace your pastor.

This “don’t” applies to those churches who choose to have non-pastors lead their small groups (which I personally recommend if you have the horses).

A lot of small groups nowadays designate their small group leaders as “shepherds.” I think this is a big mistake for a number of reasons, not least because, biblically speaking, they’re not shepherds. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that Christ gives pastors to His church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. These pastors, according to 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, and 1 Pet. 5 have unique qualifications and roles within the body of Christ. Small group leaders ought to be mature individuals who can organize and lead a small group time effectively, but they should not be viewed as those having official pastoral responsibility over those within the small group.

Because of the intimacy that small groups typically engender, it is possible for one to think that his or her small group leader is the best person to go to with a serious pastoral concern. However, it’s best if the distinction between a small group leader and a pastor remains intact. There are certain shepherding gifts and responsibilities that are unique to a church’s eldership. A good small group ministry should reinforce this idea, and not confuse the issue by treating small group leaders like pastors.

Check back in tomorrow as I share 4 dos when it comes to small group ministry…