There are tons of theories out there on how to structure small groups, the ideal number of members, and what sorts of content the members should engage in. However, something that is often overlooked in these discussions is what it will take to reproduce in a healthy way. If the goal is to reproduce disciples, small groups, and ultimately churches, then what is it going to take to move 8 to 10 people from mere acquaintances to spiritual warriors on a mission together? What will it take for one group of warriors to become two groups?
There are at least four qualities that these small groups must possess if they are going to reproduce in a healthy way.
1. Healthy Small Groups Establish Trust
Trust must be established early on in the life of the group. Some churches throw random people together in a group. Others let groups form on their own. Others have a sort of speed dating type event to get people connected into groups. Some methods are more effective than others and this post isn’t about the pros and cons of each.
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. (Philippians 1:1 HCSB)
In Paul’s greeting to the Church in Philippi, Paul greets “all the saints” but specifically calls attention to the overseers and deacons. Since this is the only time Paul specifically greets both the overseers (or elders) and deacons, it’s interesting to note how he begins his letter to this particular church.
“Grace to you”
In the first eleven verses of Philippians, Paul uses the word grace twice and the word gospel twice. “Grace” and “gospel” play leap frog in this text, and to Paul, these words are two sides of the same coin. The gospel is the story of God’s grace. Paul’s first use of the word grace is in a common greeting formula: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This was a common greeting because continuing in grace ought to characterize the common practice of the church.
I was doing some studying for a sermon and remembered reading Erwin McManus’ book An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind. Man, this stuff is still really, really good.
Check it out:
In many ways the emergence of the parachurch reflects the paralysis within the local church. When we stopped calling youth to the mission of Christ, Youth With A Mission emerged. When we ignored the opportunity to reach university students, Campus Crusade emerged. When we settled for church attendance and neglected discipleship, Navigators emerged. When we hesitated to call men to the role of spiritual leadership, Promise Keepers emerged. Yet while the parachurch was rallying and mobilizing men and women whose hearts were longing to serve Christ, it was at the same time accelerating the spiritual anemia and decline of the local church. The church became a fortress from the world rather than the hope of the world. This disconnnection from our present context exemplifies the need for holistic ministry. Seekers are looking for spiritual integration. This means that we must provide community with cause and meaning with healing. Having one without the other only leaves us fragmented. We must transform the fragments into a mosaic.
Where has the church gone wrong? When did we begin outsourcing mission to other agencies when only the Church can ever truly be the hope for the world? How can we once again become the church that God had in mind?
Every year (especially around Easter) I hear of another church doing something crazy to get people in the door of their building:
◊ One church gave away a car.
◊ One church surprised random attenders with a shopping spree.
◊ One church dropped Easter eggs on top of people’s heads from a helicopter.
Somehow I don’t think that Easter eggs or Oprah-like bribery is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He told us to make disciples of all nations. Jesus has given the church a specific mission and He has also given us the means to pursue that mission.
In order for the local church to bring glory to God and be obedient to Jesus’ commands we must use Jesus’ means to pursue Jesus’ mission.
The Spirit of God
Jesus told His disciples that He would send them the Holy Spirit as a Helper. Just before He ascends into heaven, Jesus says to His followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Because the Spirit of God indwells us, the local church has received supernatural power, spiritual gifts, encouragement, guidance, wisdom, comfort, and strength. These are all gifts that do not come from human abilities, innovation, or training (though by God’s grace He has given us those things too). In other words, anyone can have leadership skills or marketing skills but only the church has the Spirit of God dwelling among them and empowering them to pursue the mission.