Saddleback Church might seem like a large church on Sunday, but what’s really amazing is that we’re actually larger when we’re smaller. We’re larger during the week. On a recent weekend at Saddleback, we had over 25,000 people gathering on our campuses in southern California for weekend worship services, but there were about 35,000 who met in small groups from Santa Monica to San Diego.
Our model for ministry isn’t found in the list of largest or fastest-growing churches on earth. Our model for ministry is actually the very first church in the Bible. In Acts 5:42 it says this “The first church met day after day in the temple courts and from house to house.” We come together on the weekends for a large group gathering of everyone in the congregation. And then we scatter all week long for small group gatherings from house to house.
This matters a great deal if you want to see lives transformed. On the weekends, people come together and experience God’s powerful presence, hear teaching from the pulpit, and serve others within the life of the church. But it’s during the week, in small groups, that people find themselves in the kinds of relationships that help them stick to the church and to keep on growing spiritually and experiencing transformation long term.
There are five habits of truly transformational small groups that you must model as a leader and that you must challenge people to practice as they gather in their homes in small groups.
1. Make your small group a priority.
This starts with you, as a leader. If you’re not doing life with a few other believers in a small group, it will be rather difficult for you to get others to do life together. So make small group a high priority in your own life, and challenge people who are members of groups to do the same.
Small groups need to meet with consistency and frequency. It needs to become a priority for the group’s members. Our tendency is to get busy and stressed and then to flake out and come up with excuses for not meeting together. And it’s so easy for that to become habitual and before long, we don’t really have a group anymore. Meeting must be a priority.
2. Share your thoughts with humility.
The Bible says in Romans 12:16, “Don’t try to act important but enjoy the company of ordinary people. (That’s what a small group is. Just a bunch of ordinary people) And don’t think you know it all!”
Nothing ruins a small group faster than one person in the group being a Bible scholar who claims to have all the answers. Humility means being teachable. You can learn from anybody if you just know the right questions. Everybody in a small group can teach you something.
3. Respect others’ ideas with courtesy.
Small groups will teach you how to be a better listener. I learned how to listen by attending small groups. When you show respect with courtesy it means you listen to people. You look them in the eye.
Proverbs 18:2 says this “Fools have no interest in understanding. They only want to air their own opinions.” That sounds like a talk show, doesn’t it? Fools don’t care about anybody else’s ideas or thoughts. They only want to share their own opinion.
The Bible says this in Romans 14:1 in the Message paraphrase, “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.”
We’re always judging people by how far they have to go instead of thanking God for how far they’ve already come. So we share our thoughts with humility and we show respect to others with courtesy.
4. Share faults with honesty.
When I say faults I’m not just talking about faults. I’m meaning your stresses, your problems, your pressures, your trials and your troubles you’re going through, the difficulty you’re experiencing.
Here’s what the Bible says in 1 John 1, “If we live in the light, [That means we’re authentic. We’re honest. We’re open. We’re not trying to cover up. We’re not fakes. We’re not phonies. We’re not wearing a mask to small group.] then we can share fellowship with each other… [Fellowship requires authenticity. It requires integrity. It requires honesty and humility.] (But) if we claim we have no sin, [Everything’s perfect in my life. Everything’s great.] We are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
When you share your weaknesses, when you share your faults, it makes people love you more. Not less. Why? Because it’s so unusual. Everybody is trying to pretend they’ve got a perfect life. And we know it’s not true. On top of that, sharing your strengths never helps anybody else. You actually help people more by sharing our weaknesses.
If you want to be forgiven, all you need to do is tell God. But if you want to be healed, you need to tell it to somebody else. Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing. You are only as sick as your secrets. You need to tell one other person. You don’t have to tell everybody. Just find somebody you know you can trust who’s going to love you unconditionally.
5. Share the burden of others’ problems with sympathy.
Galatians 6:2 says, “Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.” Colossians 3:12 says, “As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.” And 1 Corinthians 12 says “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it.” God never intended us to bear the full weight of our suffering alone. He gave us the community of God’s people – our forever family – to bear that weight with us.
The body of Christ works the way it was intended in the intimacy of transformational small groups.
When we did the 40 Days of Purpose campaign at Saddleback Church, I stood up and said, “I don’t want anybody to miss this. So I want everybody in our church in a small group for the next six, seven weeks. In order to do that I need everybody here to be a host.” I said, “You can attend one group and you can start a group at work during the day for your people at work. If you’re not in a group I’ll help you start a group. I need three thousand of you to start a small group this week.”
Three thousand two hundred people took a card and signed up to host a group. So we taught them the “HOST” model for small groups which is 1.) have a heart for people, 2.) open your home, 3.) serve a snack, and 4.) turn on a video.
You can gather a crowd on Sunday but the church really becomes what it was intended to be when we also scatter in smaller groups.