September 18 – Our Churches: Small Groups and Bible Studies

Small Groups: The Place to Love One Another

Vital Sign Religious Freedom

Life groups, growth groups, home groups, small groups—churches use all sorts of names for small para-church gatherings of congregants in the community.

God is all about community. Throughout Scripture, believers are admonished to look after one another, teach, exhort, support, pray for, comfort, and love each other. These are not solo activities. To help people have greater engagement in their churches, small groups have become a multi-faceted benefit.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, said, “Community is deeply grounded in the nature of God. It flows from who God is. Because he is community, he creates community. It is his gift of himself to humans. Therefore, the making of community may not be regarded as an optional decision for Christians. It is a compelling and irrevocable necessity, a binding divine mandate for all believers at all times.”

God can and does move in large worship experiences. With the Holy Spirit present, Sunday morning worship experiences stir the soul, and the truth of Scripture inspires life change. However, the spiritual needs of individuals cannot be met solely by Sunday morning church attendance. Small groups encourage believers to share their core values, encourage each other in spiritual growth, engage in deeper levels of Bible study, and be support systems for each other. Moreover, by mutual agreement among the members, they can become strong accountability partners.

John Ortberg, Jr., the former senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, and an evangelical author, wrote, “God uses people to form people. That is why what happens between  you and another person is never merely human-to-human interaction—the Spirit longs to be powerfully at work in every encounter.”

Showing hospitality and offering opportunities for socializing play a significant role in small group fellowship. As people catch up with friends and make new ones, they practice their calling of the Lord to understand and love one another.

Small groups often take up opportunities for outreach and service in the church and in the community. Small groups are often easier to mobilize for a specific service project which can then encourage the whole church as accomplishments are shared.

Care needs to be exercised by small-group pastors and leaders so that groups do not become a replacement for larger corporate worship. When not properly grounded in the Bible and sound leadership, small groups may devolve into cliques or become arenas for schism and division.

A decade ago, the Barna Group explored the profiles of Americans who actively participate in their faith, including an examination of small groups. David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group of researchers, concluded:

“Significant diversity exists within the ‘group’ involvement of the American Christian community. And while there are many people who are engaged in various activities, the study shows that specific types of group participation attract particular types of people. This was especially true of the demographics and psychographics of house church attenders, who are younger, less predominantly female, and also more independent in terms of political views and affiliations.”

Hebrews 10:23-25 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as  you see the Day drawing near.”

How then should we pray? 

  • For believers nationwide to hold fast to God’s truth as they worship and fellowship.
  • For the leaders and members of your church and the small groups who are part of it.
  • For small group leaders and members who open their homes or other locations for small groups to meet.
  • For the love of Jesus to be shown through the community outreaches of small groups as they perform acts of service and charity.
  • That the Lord would lead you in your participation in a Bible study or small group.

See previous Pray 7 daily featured readings.

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