Perhaps no single idea has been so universally embraced by the church over the past 30 years as that of the small group. It is the strategic backbone of larger and smaller congregations alike. Too often these groups become nothing more than just another clique or a social club. Friendships develop, and there is a passing attempt at working through a Bible study booklet, but rarely do you find these groups engaged in the mission of Christ. There are exceptions; perhaps you belong to one of these. I do know of groups building intentional communities with tremendous outreach; they exemplify the early church. However, if you belong to one of the more common implementations of a small group – one not engaging your culture – then it’s time to ask some hard questions.
What should the role of a small group be? I think there are three signs of a healthy small group:
- They disciple others. The group is engaged in discipling other members of the group, as well as training them to make other disciples. The big idea is to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. This was the final command of Jesus (Matthew 28:19).
- They reach out into their community and the world. Jesus instructed us how we are to live in Matthew 25:31-46. We are to look after the poor, the hungry, the sick, the thirsty, the homeless, and the imprisoned. In James we are told to care for the orphans and widows (James 1:27), and in the book of Isaiah, we are commanded to stand against injustice and care for the needs of our families (Isaiah 58:6-7). As a group of believers committed to Christ and to one another, these things should be at the heart of everything we do.
- They carry the burdens of one another. Looking again at Isaiah 58, we see that we are not to neglect the needs of our family. Jesus made it clear that in Him, our family extends beyond traditional bounds (Matthew 12:47-50). We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and must therefore share in the burdens of our family. When one is in need, all are in need. Intentional communities do a great job of this, sharing food, transportation, and medical expenses.
Is your small group doing the things necessary to make an impact on your world? Are you reaching out to those in your neighborhood or are you content to spend an evening together eating cookies and sitting in front of a fire? We are called to a mission that does not end until Christ returns. It is our call to be doing that mission every second of every minute of every hour of our lives. There is no time off from obeying Christ or loving Jesus, no matter how spiritually we might want to frame it. Small groups are intended to mimic the early church, so let’s be certain that’s what we’re doing. If you’re in a social club setting right now, I advise you to get out and redeem the time to do something that will further the kingdom (Ephesians 5:15-16).
There’s nothing wrong with building friendships or encouraging one another in Christ. It is important to remember that we were made for community. At the same time, we as a people devoted to Jesus have a mission that is more important than anything else we might do. Don’t hide your light in some comfortable living room in a suburb. Make certain the whole world sees you shine brightly as you reflect the love of Jesus in everything you do.