“And every day in the Temple and in people’s homes they continued to teach and preach the Good News about Jesus the Messiah” (Acts 5:42 GNB).
A small group is an intentional, face-to-face gathering of three to twelve people, on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of developing relationships, meeting felt needs of group members, growing spiritually, and laying plans and working together to lead others to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. The group is to help each to grow in their relationship with God, grow in their relationship with each other, and reach out to share what they have with others.
The best small groups are those which, by definition:
a) are an essential part of the church’s life and structure,
b) have a growth mentality, and
c) operate relationally.
Small groups are an essential part of the church’s life and structure. The church cannot just “try” small groups. Success with such an approach doesn’t last long. It doesn’t work. Small groups cannot be just an option. To succeed they cannot be just another program of the church; they must become the basic building block of the church itself. In New Testament times, small groups were to the church what cells are to the body. Just as the body performs all its functions largely at cell level and grows only as the cells grow, so the small-group church accomplishes what it is trying to achieve largely through its small groups, and the church grows because its small groups grow. The successful church operating small groups should be called a small-group church, rather than simply a church with small groups.
We speak of “going to church” and many think of the church as an organization. It is true that church buildings and church organizations have their place; but in truth the PEOPLE are the church. The New Testament word for “church”—ekklesia—is used to describe those who have been “called out” by God, who also come together in community because of their shared connection with Jesus. Such communities of “called out” people in the New Testament were small—small enough to meet in someone’s home to worship, to eat together, to learn, and to serve. The Bible speaks of “the church in the house of . . .” several times (Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 16:19; Philemon 2; Col. 4:15). Hence, first of all, a holistic small group is really a mini-church, an ekkelsia, functioning in all the basic areas of growth and ministry with which any church should be concerned.
Although the group meets for Bible study, Bible study is a means to build relationships among participants and between them and Jesus. He has promised that where two or three are gathered in His name, He will be present with them. Small groups meet in anticipation of experiencing together His presence so they can share the blessings of relationships and the Word with others. The small group is to connect people relationally for the purpose of growing in Christ-likeness, loving one another, and contributing to the work of the church, in order to glorify God and make disciples of all nations. As Ellen White said, the “One who cannot err” has instructed that “the formation of small companies” should be the “BASIS of Christian effort.” Modern research shows how true that inspired directive is. Successful small groups focus on relationships and mission.
The admonition to “love one another.”Jesus taught His disciples to “love one another” as He had loved them (John 13:34). He stated that it was their love for each other that would convince others that they were true disciples. Here are some “one another” texts (which will result in mission) that can probably be followed better in the small group setting than in any other setting, given the fact that these admonitions were first addressed to the small groups of Christians of which the entire New Testament church consisted:
“Be devoted to one another” (Romans 12:10) “Honor one another” (ditto)
“Accept one another” (Romans 15:7)
“Instruct one another” (Romans 15:14) “Serve one another” (Galatians 5:13)
“Carry each other’s burden” (Galatians 6:2)
“Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2)
“Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32)
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)
“Teach one another” (Colossians 3:16) “Admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16) “Encourage each other” (I Thessalonians 4:18) “Build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11) “Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16) “Pray for one another” (James 5:16)