What is the most effective space where people can be discipled to live a trans-formative life impacting and changing communities?
Many cultures drift more and more toward individualism. Kingdom minded people should take on the responsibility of moving people into authentic relationships with each other, many through the instigation and encouragement of small groups. I believe the Bible does offer examples of the need for and benefits of smaller units of community.
People have the desire to be connected and nurtured but are unable to get this from their pastors or leaders. Small units of community allow people to “carry one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) in a way that simply is impossible in large group settings. Therefore, Scripture favours small settings for accomplishing genuine community.
In addition to scriptural favour toward small units, small groups addresses cultural needs as well. That’s why a shift back toward interpersonal relationships is taking place.
Why is this shift happening in the church? Because small groups are meeting the needs of people to grow in faith by learning in a community with some purpose. We want and need to be connected– it is not good to be alone– so that we can grow and help one another.
Most of these needs can be best met in small groups, where people are able to mature in their faith as they respect, appreciate, listen to, and hear those in community alongside them.
Though Christians experience the need for authentic community, they often need nudging to acknowledge and live in the reality of that need – not unlike many of us who understand our need for exercise, but require encouragement to participate and, thus, enjoy the benefits! In the body of Christ, small groups provide an opportunity to encourage people into life-changing community. However, the significance of small groups goes beyond the benefits of personal life change and becomes crucial for the transformation of our communities.
Four important facets of small groups demonstrate their transformative nature:
1. Connectible: Small groups connect people in relationships and we know it’s through relationships that people are being discipled. One common reason given by people who leave churches is a failure to connect in relationship. Small groups provide a comfortable environment for newcomers to connect.
2. Reproducible: In human growth, multiplication allows the cell to become multiple cells, which allows change and growth to occur. Similarly, for growth to occur in the Kingdom, disciples make disciples (multiply), and therefore small groups must continuously grow and multiply.
3. Assimilative: Just as small groups connect newcomers to the body of Christ through relationships, small groups assimilate members to ministry through service. As people in small groups grow in relationship together, they will readily serve alongside others and integrate into ministry opportunities.
4. Transformative: Small groups allow individuals to experience faster and deeper personal transformation through authentic community. For non-Christian seekers, small groups provide a safe setting to ask questions in a community of people who also wrestle and struggle. Thus, when they do come to faith in Christ, they are more likely to experience authentic life-change having been in and remaining in community.
Small groups provide the missional church with an opportunity to connect members in genuine relationships. Through interpersonal relationships, small group members will experience life-change as they fulfil their need for community in an individualistic society and are discipled to be agents of change in their communities.
If we think about mobilising the body of Christ to realise His Kingdom, we seriously should take the disciple making opportunities of small groups in account.
We are going to explore this further.
dirk coetzee with help from ed stetzer