Must Churches Have Small Groups (A Small Groups Ministry for Growth, Discipleship and Fellowship)?

I keep finding churches that have small group ministries (called SGMs going forward). This isn’t unusual. Plenty of churches have been into this idea of small groups for a while now—more so in the mega-churches. Thousands of people going through the door winds up creating an atmosphere of anonymity; SGMs winds up being a pragmatic approach for creating community.

But I’ve seen SGMs in churches with as little as seventy-five people.

By SGMs I don’t mean Sunday School where people think that Kids need to have a targeted message. I don’t even mean a ministry like a few of the people in the assembly working in a Homeless Shelter. I mean the small groups where the local church has small groups (sometimes in this article called SGs) that meet regularly in a home for something other than a Bible study but it might include a Bible study. Perhaps working through some book (say on marriage) together. Perhaps praying together or learning to pray together (Luke 11:1). The goal, they say, is essentially a fellowship group that gets to know each other and function together while leaning on one another: a pathway to fellowship and discipleship.

What I’ve also seen is that this is then promoted as the Biblical model for discipleship and fellowship. If this is the Biblical model for fellowship, discipleship and outreach then it’s not really a optional.

I need to examine this position since I’ve never considered it.

First, I’ll restate what layperson Small Group Ministry Proponents (called SGMPs going forward) seem to repeatedly use in their presentation; then I’ll examine the grounds for those positions; then, if possible, I’ll come to a conclusion.

I make no promises that this will actually conclude in this post. It may be the case that some SGMP will come along with another argument that I may have to examine. Or someone might recommend a book on the issue and I’ll have to deal with a scholarly argument. Who knows.

Also, this post will be extremely long. Breaking it into smaller posts might help traffic or general readability, but the point here isn’t really to aid either but for me to examine a position. That being said, I will break up the post into pages so that you, person who is reading over my shoulder, don’t feel overwhelmed by the length of the post on one page.

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Increase Not Decrease: Joy In God-Given Vocation

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegrooms voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29-30)

John, at this point of his life, noted that his joy was fulfilled in being where God wanted him to be doing what God wanted him to do. The focus of his words is not on being the bride of the groom, but being the friend of the groom. He was the greatest of the prophets; his joy was full at that endeavor because it was his God-given position and he was operating in it.

And his joy was fullfilled in hearing the groom enjoying the party with the bride. I’m sure The Baptist knew about the bride metaphor in Scripture (God and Israel Hos 2:19–20) but he didn’t know how Paul (who is Paul anyway?) would later use it (Christ and the Church Eph 5:32). He was the best man.

What of us?

Christ says that the least in his kingdom would be greater than John the Baptist. Every single Kingdom Dweller had the distinct opportunity of pointing to Christ—just like the Old Testament prophets—but with clarity: something they didn’t have. We’re not Best Men. We’re Bride. We’re family. We have an explicitly clear message.

The Christ, the Incarnate Yahweh God, is the Man Jesus Christ: Jesus is both Lord and King. Jesus, born of Mary, died in Jerusalem according to the plan of God and by the sinful hands of men: both Gentile and Jew. Jesus, the same Jesus that died, rose on the third day, vindicated by God and with power. Jesus was seen by the five hundred. Jesus was taken up into heaven. The way Jesus was taken up is the way Jesus will return. We are awaiting for Jesus.

No prophet could be as explicit as us. Not one. Because where we’re living is the age that has dawned: not the age of John which has diminished.

Imagine what this age entails. If John was calling for repentance in preparation for what was coming, how much more dire are the words for us who live on this side of the cross. We’ve seen the cost of sin: The God Man pinned to a tree. We’ve seen the cost. We’ve seen the payment. We’ve seen the victory.

John and his age did have to diminish so that Christ and his era would increase. Unceasingly increase. And it is in this God-given vocation, this work that is granted by God himself by finding us where we are in time, do we find our greatest joy and fulfillment.

Yes we will struggle. Yes we will groan in ourselves. Yes we will speak words that are ignored.

But that is exactly what Christ went through and we’re following in his footsteps—something the prophets didn’t even explicitly know (Luke 9:23 cf. John 15:18-25).

We ourselves do not diminish. Our goal isn’t the mini-highs that we get from the small victories in our lives. Our goal isn’t merely the applause at finding victory over sin for a season.

In a conversation in John 10, Christ points out that he has come giving life (yes) but to also give life more abundantly (John 10:10). Our Joy is tied up in our mission of pointing to Christ as a community whose distinctions are emphasized as they function as a whole forever: even after sin and death and the need to give out tracts has been squashed.

No, our goal is not to become Nothing as part of Something Else. Our humanity isn’t subsumed into some ephemeral non-personal force.  There was so much wrong with what the holy man was saying but this idea of destroying our humanity to be swallowed up, no matter what we believed or professed was more the attributes of a monster than of a good, personal, God.

Our position is God-given; we’re to function as God has granted us ability to function which is pointing to the living Jesus Christ in our lives, in our actions, in our words with wisdom and our own distinct sensibilities for now and forever; and it’s in Jesus Christ and His work where we’ll find our greatest joy and satisfaction.

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