Every one of us needs a support system. A brain surgeon wouldn’t operate without first hooking their patient up to a life support system. A deep-sea diver wouldn’t explore the depths of the ocean without first connecting to a life support system.
You, as a pastor, can’t send your congregation into the world each week without a life support system to help them navigate life’s challenges and help them grow spiritually. It doesn’t matter how strong of a preacher you are. Your congregation can’t survive without a life support system.
That support system is called a small group. God wired us for community. The very first thing God said when he made humans is, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Whether or not we ever marry, we’re better together. We need each other, even during seasons when social distancing is recommended and we have to get creative with ways to connect safely.
Why are small groups so important in the life of your church? Biblical small groups do five things that help your congregation sustain themselves spiritually and live out God’s purposes. You can find all of them in Acts 2:42-47, in the lives of the first small groups of the early church.
Small groups study God’s Word together.
“The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles” (Acts 2:42 GW).
Early small groups studied what would become the Bible. The Bible is the “teachings of the apostles.”
It’s more important that your congregation learns to study the Bible together than by themselves. Think of it this way: If you witnessed a car accident tonight, who would notice the more important details of the crash—one person or six? Six pairs of eyes will always see more details than one. The same is true of a Bible study. We get far more out of studying the Bible together than we do by ourselves. More eyes will see things that one person will miss.
We all see God’s Word with blinders based upon our unique background and perspective. Studying the Bible with other people helps us get past these biases.
Small groups practice how to love.
“The disciples were devoted . . . to fellowship . . . All the believers kept meeting together, and they shared everything with each other” (Acts 2:42, 44 GW).
God put us on this planet to learn how to love. Small groups are a laboratory for learning how to do this. Your church members can’t learn to love unless they are around people to practice it. Small groups ensure your congregation will be around people who can challenge them to love.
Every small group has people who may irritate you. Before you get frustrated with them, remember that God may be using them to teach you about grace and how to love those who are harder to love.
The small group is the laboratory for us to learn relational skills we may have never learned before (but should have). The early church, as they met together in homes, was committed to loving one another through all the problems and pain in life. They were committed to serving and caring for one another. They provided a great model for us in committed love.
Small groups eat together.
“The disciples were devoted to . . . the breaking of bread . . . They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:42, 46 GW).
The Bible says the first small groups ate together. Jesus also did much of his teaching while eating.
Why? Because, as we eat together “with joyful and sincere hearts,” we’re relaxed. Tensions drop. Our barriers go down. Food makes for stronger fellowship, making it easier for us to connect with others.
Small groups pray for one another.
“They devoted themselves to . . . prayer” (Acts 2:42 GW).
Knowing others are praying for you is the greatest realization in the world. The first church spent time praying for one another together. I don’t know how it works, but I know there’s additional power when we pray together.
Jesus told us this in Matthew 18:19-20: “I can guarantee again that if two of you agree on anything here on earth, my Father in heaven will accept it. Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (GW).
We all need the prayer support that a group of committed believers can provide. We also need people in our lives we can regularly pray for. God created us for an interdependent life where we depend upon the support of God and other people through prayer.
Small groups help one another.
“They shared everything with each other” (Acts 2:45 GW).
Members of these early small groups selflessly served one another. They met practical needs in profound ways.
My own small group does this regularly. We bring meals to one another, help people move, and take people to the hospital. I’ve even gone shopping for people when they’ve had a specific need.
Whenever we serve someone like this, we’re practicing unselfishness. This will be transformational for the people in your congregation. As they get outside of themselves to serve, God makes them more like Jesus. As small group members serve one another, both the giver and receiver are helped. The receiver gets a need met. The giver grows spiritually as he or she becomes less self-focused.
Small groups are one of the most powerful tools your church has in its toolbox for spiritual development. Leveraging this potential can be a game-changer for your church.