Looking back at the hundred-or-so conflicted congregations with whom I have been called to consult over the last couple of decades, here is an important observation: only a small handful (or so) of them had a strong small group ministry. The vast majority of them either had no small group ministry or they had a tired, ineffective small group or Sunday School ministry. I believe there is a correlation. I believe there is a direct relationship between small group ministries and church unity.
For some decades now, church leaders have been recognizing the importance of small groups as a critical tool for Spiritual formation (or for Spiritual “transformation”, depending on whose vernacular you favor). We have all begun to see that, only in the intimacy and accountability of a small group of friends gathered together around the Word of God, can we live the life God has called us to live and become the Christians God has called us to become. It was true in the lives of the apostles (the first small group ever) and it is still true today. Whether you call them Sunday School, Bible Study, home groups, cell groups, prayer groups, gospel communities, support groups or recovery groups doesn’t matter. They all have slightly different aims, but one reality is the same for all of them: creating a safe environment with equal parts grace and truth and where we “lean into” one another’s lives is where real Spiritual transformation occurs.
But I will take this observation one step further. Because small groups are such a powerful tool for Spiritual transformation, they are also a key ingredient to unity in a local body of believers. Why? Because Spiritual formation is a key ingredient to unity. If the Spirit Himself is the central figure in all questions about …
I believe that loneliness is sweeping our culture in epidemic proportions. I also believe the church is uniquely positioned and empowered to cure loneliness. We just need to figure out what genuine friendships look like in the face of life’s most painful circumstances.
I have not yet met a pastor or a church leader who thinks their church actually has too much community or too much in the way of genuine relationships. The truth is, all of us are always looking for ways to develop a deeper sense of community among our members. We all understand that there simply is no richer, deeper, more fulfilling sense of God’s love and grace than to be fully known and fully loved, i.e., to have someone know our darkest secrets and struggles and flaws and still love us!
I have found that kind of community in our church’s support group ministry. It is the absolute best way I have ever seen to say to hurting people, “We understand you and we love you anyway!” I have come to believe that the more church members we can get involved in it, the deeper our sense of community becomes. Here is a great example from that ministry:
The underlying message behind support groups is the same message which is at the heart of all genuine community: you are not alone. My church’s support group ministry is built on two simple foundational pieces: (1) God’s Word, and (2) friends who share your pain. There seems to be no limit to how much healing can take place with those two elements working together in a person’s life.
Of course, there is much more to a good support group ministry than that. But that is the core of it. Anything about this message which …