Leading a small group

"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." (Colossians 1v3-13)

 Key lessons:

  1. It is the gospel that bears fruit in a life of faith, hope, love and good work v1-6, 10.
  2. That growth comes through the ministry of the word with prayer v5, 7-12.

The group members are the vine to be tended and grown. The group meetings are the trellis – the structure that aids the growth: “The basic work of Christian ministry is to preach the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. This is where the life and power of all ministry is to be found: in the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the message of the Bible by one person to another (or to more than one)…The essential work of ministry – of making disciples of Jesus through the prayerful speaking of the word – [is] the vine work that all Christians are called to take part in.”[1]

The elements of the community group:

  1. Word: Studying the whole Bible, focused on the gospel, and applied to all of life.
  2. Prayer: For understanding, wisdom and practice.
  3. Community: That grows in and displays the “fruit” of faith, hope, love and good works.

Developing community.

In his book “Centre Church,” Tim Keller writes: “The real secret of fruitful and effective ministry is the quality of our community.”[2]

For their inception at Grace Church, our mid-week groups have been called “community” groups. Their vision flows from this conviction. When Christians live in a genuine loving community, not only do they mature, as they are more open with each other in engaging with God’s word and are urged on by each other’s example, but they become magnets too. Those living within our broken, fractured, community-less society are attracted to them, and intrigued at why they are as they are. As pagan opponents of the earliest Christians famously commented: “See how they love one another.”

We might define the vision of our community groups as: To be smaller communities within the larger community of Grace Church that seek to foster and display the community life of the coming kingdom of God in the here and now, as they grow together in his word and with prayer.

It’s a high calling, and being these sort of communities is therefore easier said than done. It’s all too easy to fall back into the more widespread model of “home” group – and especially as people join from churches where that has been the model. In classic homegroups, people come simply to talk, pray and study, and often with little sense of actual commitment to one-another or serving and reaching the lost.

To help maintain the vision for our community groups, it is therefore worth considering their distinctives. These are the things that surround the usual aspects of homegroups, that we are seeking to develop, maintain and keep on the agenda of all our community groups members.

Paul writes: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Phil 2v14-16). There are five points to this star of our groups, lit up by the truth of the gospel.

1)  Socialising: The men’s groups especially need to hear this! Time spent together simply building relationships is time well spent. We want our members to be interested in one-another, caring for one-another, enjoying one-another and looking forward to being with one-another. Food, chat and evenings out are an important part. They will not detract from the times of prayer and Bible reading, but make them more meaningful. Indeed, an ambition is to have members learn to instinctively share God’s word and pray for one-another within the informal conversations that come in the various social contexts – encouraging each other in the things of the Lord. Giving at least 30 minutes to socialising at the start of the meeting helps this. But people may need to be encouraged to get there on time to be there for this.

2)  Serving: Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and so his body must do the same. When a need becomes apparent, no matter how small, we want our members to instinctively consider how it can be met, displaying a generosity of time, energy and money. The loan of a car, the offer of regular babysitting, a gift to those struggling financially, help with decorating – whatever it is. Differing backgrounds and generations can only enrich this, as those with different life-experiences and resources can help one-another. The leader can simply ask the group, “how can we help?” when a need arises, and see who can then perhaps take charge of co-ordinating it. There’s nothing like pulling together in a shared experience for bonding a group. You might think about volunteering as a group to take on something for the church.

3)  Caring: The groups should be the first port of call for pastoral care for their members. The ideal is to get to a point where people open up with their struggles with life, health, or sin, so that the rest of the group can pray for them, encourage them, and share their burden. The leader in particular will need to be actively encouraging this, not least by example, and will need to be shepherding their group by gently strengthening those who struggle with God’s word, and going after those who start to drift in order to draw them back into the fold of the group. Where there are more complex issues, the elders should be informed.

4)  Celebrating: This cannot be forced. But a key mark of the church should be a joy in all God has given in Christ, and joy then in sharing in that together. We want our groups to be places where everything that is good is celebrated as a gift from God. If a job is gained, a baby born, a sickness passed, a worry relieved, celebrate it – with bubbly if necessary. Above all spend time, thanking God in prayer for the hope we have in Christ and all that flows from it.

5)  Witnessing: Where a member shares an issue a non-Christian is going through, there is an opportunity to bear fruit in displaying the love of Christ. Think together about whether the group could help – or perhaps the wider church. At the very least, pray for the situation and encourage the group member to tell their friend the group is doing that. And consider how often the group could do something with non-Christians – a walk, beach barbeque etc. We want to involve non-Christians in our everyday life together so they get to look in and see the difference the Lord Jesus makes. Would it be feasible to commit to a social once a term to which non-Christians can be invited? These build relationships with those you may be able to serve in the future. And try to keep evangelism always on the agenda in your prayer times, asking how people are getting on. You could commit together on occasion to each give a friend an evangelistic book, or have them around to dinner. Perhaps once every two years you could run a Christianity Explored course in your group’s slot so everyone can invite their friends to join. There are all sorts of ways a group can engage in evangelism.

In terms of envisioning your group for this, you could talk through this document.

To think further you could read:

  1. Growth groups by Colin Marshall
  2. Everyday church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

[1] The small group and the vine, Tony Payne & Marty Sweeney.

[2] Centre Church, Tim Keller, p311.