I keep finding churches that have small group ministries (called SGMs going forward). This isn’t unusual. Plenty of churches have been into this idea of small groups for a while now—more so in the mega-churches. Thousands of people going through the door winds up creating an atmosphere of anonymity; SGMs winds up being a pragmatic approach for creating community.
But I’ve seen SGMs in churches with as little as seventy-five people.
By SGMs I don’t mean Sunday School where people think that Kids need to have a targeted message. I don’t even mean a ministry like a few of the people in the assembly working in a Homeless Shelter. I mean the small groups where the local church has small groups (sometimes in this article called SGs) that meet regularly in a home for something other than a Bible study but it might include a Bible study. Perhaps working through some book (say on marriage) together. Perhaps praying together or learning to pray together (Luke 11:1). The goal, they say, is essentially a fellowship group that gets to know each other and function together while leaning on one another: a pathway to fellowship and discipleship.
What I’ve also seen is that this is then promoted as the Biblical model for discipleship and fellowship. If this is the Biblical model for fellowship, discipleship and outreach then it’s not really a optional.
First, I’ll restate what layperson Small Group Ministry Proponents (called SGMPs going forward) seem to repeatedly use in their presentation; then I’ll examine the grounds for those positions; then, if possible, I’ll come to a conclusion.
I make no promises that this will actually conclude in this post. It may be the case that some SGMP will come along with another argument that I may have to examine. Or someone might recommend a book on the issue and I’ll have to deal with a scholarly argument. Who knows.
Also, this post will be extremely long. Breaking it into smaller posts might help traffic or general readability, but the point here isn’t really to aid either but for me to examine a position. That being said, I will break up the post into pages so that you, person who is reading over my shoulder, don’t feel overwhelmed by the length of the post on one page.
Arguments for Small Groups
This section doesn’t state my position. At this point in the post, I don’t have an argued position though I do (admittedly) have an intuition that the position is really unfounded. Where I can link to the SGMP argument online, I will.
(1) SGMs are not wrong on account of them not being in the Bible. Although there is no mention of SGMs in the Bible, there is also no mention of the Trinity. That doesn’t mean “Trinity”; is unbiblical, it just means that you have to look for the Scriptural concept or principle.
(2) The concept of the small group is grounded in the nature of the Trinity: a community made up of a small group. Here’s a quote from Biblical Foundations for Small Group Ministry: An Integrational Approach that I found over at Luke Gerarty’s blog.
“From the beginning, God has existed as a community of Being. In human history God has revealed this community of Being as Father, Son and Spirit, an eternal small group, a Trinity of Being and relationship, around whom the greater community of eternal beings is gathered, both angelic and resurrected.”
(3) The Small Group principle is revealed in Exodus 18 where Moses couldn’t handle all the work by himself and he formed small groups. He had to delegate responsibility to smaller groups that would then, if need be, bring their more difficult issues to Moses. This thing was never frowned upon by God, Jethro and Moses (who were both men of God), and this thing is even repeated to the second generation’s re-presentation of the Law (Deut. 1:9-18) therefore this is a principle that should have application today.
(4) Jesus himself established a SGM pattern by teaching large groups (like in John 6) but then spending most of his time teaching a small group of 12 (Matt. 4:18-22, Matt. 10:2-4, Luke 6:13-16, Luke 22:28). Even feeding a large group of 5000 is split into feeding smaller groups (Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). Jesus then pushes the pattern forward saying that in the way he was sent, he now sends his disciples (John 20:21). Then Paul states in Ephesians 5:1-2 that we’re to be imitators of Christ. This isn’t only about character, but also about his walk and behavior. Paul repeats the pattern by working in small groups when he teaches Timothy and exhorts him to teach all that to faithful men who can teach others also (2 Tim 2:2). We should be doing SGM like Jesus, the Disciples, Paul and Timothy.
(5) This was a pattern that was copied by the Early Church. The Apostles couldn’t spend their hours dealing with all the problems so they delegated deacons to do that work while they devoted themselves to study and prayer. (Acts 6)
(6) The early church always had two types of meetings: they would gather at the temple and they would meet daily in homes (Acts 2:46-47; 5:42). Indeed, we find this pattern throughout the book of Acts where they first are at the temple or synagogues and then are gathered together in homes, be it for praying (Acts 12:12), meeting (Acts 16:40), or receiving Paul’s teaching (Acts 20:20).
(7) The New Testament is fraught with admonition that we’re to accept one another (Rom 15:7), care for one another (1 Cor 12:25), encourage each other (1 Thes 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), love one another (John 4:11), carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6:2). These things can only be properly accomplished where anonymity isn’t a problem and that is in the setting of a small group.
(9) People are more likely to visit homes than the church building because they feel less intimidated and thus can ask questions. A SGM is sensitive in this regard.
An Examination of Small Groups Argument
(1) “Small Groups”; is not mentioned but is Biblical. It is true that the idea of “Small Groups”; cannot be marked as wrong based on not being stated in Scripture. It is correct that the Trinity is not mentioned by name in Scripture but it is outright Scriptural.
Beside that, merely being not mentioned doesn’t make something wrong. Bagels with Cream Cheese are also not mentioned but that doesn’t make them wrong. Maybe they’re wrong for my diet but they don’t have a moral or theological component of wrongness.
The question, technically speaking, is not even if a SGM is wrong. The real question is if the concept of Small Groups Within Broader Groups is a necessary and Biblical model actually recommended in Scripture?
After all, the term “Trinity”; summarizes, or rather uses semiotic symbols that house the meaning that the symbols aim to convey. In other words, the fact that the Bible teaches that there is one God and that this One God is specified as Three Persons necessitates a shorthand label found in the term “Trinity”;. So any examination of Small Groups (and by extension SGMs) shouldn’t resort to justification by name being found or not-found in Scripture; rather search if the Scriptures are actually endorsing their necessity.
So this argument really doesn’t say anything pertinent to the subject.
(2) Small Groups echo the Triune small group. It is true that God is Trinity: three persons in community. It is also true that each member of this community is in a relationship with one another. But that is not the only thing important about the trinity.
God’s perfect small group consists of three members, therefore should all small groups consist of 3 members?
Or maybe, it is also true that each member of the trinity is infinitely profound. No single finite being can be infinitely profound. Therefore we need an infinite amount of finite beings to adequately image the profound relationship of the triune Godhead: an argument for a large group.
Perhaps, neither of those is right. Since God is actually One Being in Multiple Persons, the way we reflect that image is by being One Church made up of Multiple Persons who relate to one another in love.
But beside all that, does this dehumanize people who are not part of a small group ministry? What if you’re a single person who spends his time alone—does that mean that the individual is no longer a bearer of the image of God?
Surely the SGMP will say that I am oversimplifying their theological argument but I’m exactly doing the opposite. Arguing from the trinity to support a specific model in this regard is fraught with loads of interpretative data. We don’t have any Scripture that makes a point of highlighting that Small Groups are made in the Image of the Triune God but we have a theological leap being made to bridge the gap.
Worst, we actually have scripture that supports the fact that the triune God is intimately involved in the church! We have scripture that says that man and woman (who was made jointly in the image of God in Gen 1:26-27) is actually a picture of Christ and the church. The only possible leap is to jump to Matt 18 (Where two or three are gathered, there am I in their midst) and stretch it to be about small groups—but even that is a matter of discipline which culminates in bringing the matter to the entire church!
This argument just seems hollow and way too malleable to be of any good.
(3) Moses delegated Responsibility to small groups. A listing of what I see wrong with this argument:
- First, there’s the problem that this was something that needed addressing within that generation of Israelites. It was unique to their situation and eventually would prove problematic when they solely consisted of small groups (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:24-25). The text depicts Moses dealing with all the problems of the people by himself and then a non-Jew Jethro coming in and pointing out that there were better ways to do things (Ex 18:14).3 But that’s not to say that it was eternally the best way to do things.
- Second, this unique situation already had a system for dealing with the problems—Israel was made up of Tribes and those tribes were made up of families and each of those had leaders (Numbers 1-3). The fact that Moses could find leaders to judge within the groups, by telling the tribes to pick amongst their own tribes (Deut 1:9, 13) has nothing to do with breaking into smaller groups but everything to do with utilizing the structure that was already in place without supplanting it with Moses The Judge King.
- Third, it is true that the establishing of the local judges was a matter that required looking at the character of the individuals (Exo 18:21). But let’s not overplay this hand. None of these people were really the best judges to begin with (the second section of Numbers establishes that). Serious situations still had to go before Moses (Ex 18:22, 26). The local judges dealt with simple things and there’s no explanation of what those things were. In Numbers 15:32, conceivably a simple matter, a man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath had to be brought before Moses. Jump ahead to Numbers 25 and apparently the people have no problem going off to have a religious meal with their enemies (Numbers 25). And when it’s time to deal with the problem, some take it upon themselves to deal with it without raising the matter further up the line (Numbers 25:6-9). So an argument from the explicit situation of these people seems to call for some further unification and perhaps bespeaks of some better form of leadership.
- Fourth, this only really supports the need for leaders to delegate responsibility when they are handling the bulk of the work. Moses was judging every issue. Jethro saw the issue as pragmatically problematic: Moses and the people would waste all their time in court (Exo. 18:18). So divvy up that responsibility. This doesn’t seem like what the SGMPs are pushing for. They seem to be emphasizing smaller groups for fellowship and discipleship, but not really to function as mini-tribunals before arriving to the Supreme Court of the Church Elders/Pastors.
Beside all that there is also the issue that this bit was actually incorporated into the law (or at the very least the historical introduction to the re-telling of the law Deut 1:9-18)
- Fifth, it could be argued that this is a civil requirement. It’s not so much a necessity on how assemblies should split up but is rather an explanation on how states should look over cases or how governing bodies could be organized.
- Sixth, it could also be argued that Christians are not the nation of Israel. They are free to remain uncircumcised, they operate under another priesthood, they meet wherever they want, and they can eat whatever they want. For all intents and purposes, a change in the law bespeaks of setting aside the law (Heb 7:12). Of course, this would necessitate more space than I’m willing to deal with here but it would be more easily summarized by this: we are no longer under law (Rom. 2:12; 3:19; 1st Cor. 9:20; Gal. 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18) therefore citing the law as a guiding principle is wrongheaded. That’s not to say that we can now do everything the law was against, but it is to say that simply because it is in the law doesn’t mean we necessarily have to be those who do it. Jesus would say that the entire law and prophets hangs on two commandments (Matt 22:40) so the person would have to argue how this section is actually fundamental to loving and fellowship.
- Seventh, without a doubt, the local church isn’t the nation of Israel! The text highlights a group of thousands. If the local assembly has that high amount (like in Acts 2), then I imagine they would break down—but not to small groups, but rather small churches!
- Eighth, they do argue that SGs are fundamental to fellowship but they don’t really make the connection with this mandate of the law explicit. The reason is obvious: Moses isn’t mandating this legal structure for making fellowship small-groups. He’s doing it for the reasons I mentioned above.
(4) Jesus established the pattern of small groups. There are other things that people can argue Jesus established as a pattern. For example: Did Jesus also establish a pattern of picking a traitor in the small group? I mean, Jesus went out of his way to make sure that Judas was part of that inner circle (John 6:70) so should that be part of the pattern? And what’s the magic number for the small group anyway? Is it 12? Is it 11, since we’re not counting the betrayer? Or is it 70, since Jesus also had a small group of seventy? Or maybe it’s the smaller groups of 50 (Luke 9:14) like at the feeding of the multitude? The only thing we can derive from Jesus choosing and teaching the 12 is that he chose and taught the 12. We can’t get that this is the pattern for the Church as a whole or for the assembly that gathers here or there. After all, Christ also later chose Paul—how do we even copy that (a suggestion: maybe it’s 12 with a 13th outsider, but you have to add this person later on after the group is established—sort of a group member but out of time)? Like arguing from the nature of the Triune God, it’s difficult to establish a principle of ministry based on Christ’s life
But this argument goes further. It suggests that not only was the principle established, it was obvious enough that it was repeatable by the early Disciples (including Paul) and was professed as the legitimate pattern to be employed.
This unfortunately dovetails back to the point I made with all the questions. Christ was unmarried, Paul was unmarried, Paul even argues that being unmarried could be a beneficial situation for a person who is ministering. And yet, Paul quite explicitly says that being single isn’t for everyone and that the pattern is actually getting married. Does this create a dissonance with what Paul later says about following the pattern set by Christ and by himself? Of course not. It just means that maybe Paul isn’t talking about emulating Christ in that way.
Taking up one’s cross might look differently to different people but it always reflects an end to self and a profession of Christ. For Christ, preaching the Gospel to the Pharisees looked like denouncing their hypocrisy, for Paul it meant arguing in synagogues. For Christ it meant going to the Jews and generally not dealing with Gentiles (Mark 7:25-30; Matt 15:21-28); for Paul it meant going to the Jew first then the Gentiles; for some of us it might mean going only to Gentiles.
Additionally, what Jesus did wasn’t to establish a model of a small group but rather a model of the church. In John 20, he’s not breathing the Holy Spirit onto the small group instead of the congregation. Those that are gathered (even though they were small) were the congregation.
(5) The Apostles chose Deacons over small groups. This is a historical retelling of the fact that the Apostles weren’t able to do everything and maybe responsibility had to be delegated (Acts 6:1-7) but under examination some things wind up being not as simplistic as all that.
- The number of disciples is very large and growing (Acts 2:41; 5:14; 6:1).
- Many were already approaching things as a unified community (Acts 2:42-47;4:32-37)
- The issue was between two groups of Jews: the Hellenists and the Hebrew nationals (Acts 6:1)
- The issue was that the widows of the Hellenists were being neglected. It wasn’t that the group was lacking in fellowship. It seems to be that we have here the early seeds of problems that would occur as the Gospel expands outward to the Gentiles.
- The Twelve then demand that the Christians function as a whole group to deal with the issue (Acts 6:3) and it was commonly acknowledged that this was a good idea (Acts 6:5).
- The work was probably not serving food but rather dealing explicitly with finances for the widows (Acts 6:2).
If the Twelve had decided things for the group, we would have had the immediate problem of the Hellenists feeling underrepresented. By the community of both Hellenists and Nationals judging on the issue, they get to pick the people that fit the Apostolic mandate while simultaneously addressing the needs of the people. So it’s not surprising that the text goes out of the way to mention Nicolas a proselyte from Antioch Acts 6:5).4
Is this an argument for small groups? Well, not according to the text. It seems to be rather a retelling of a historical situation that may have been unique to the admixture of Jews going on in this community.
I guess someone might be able to draw something else from the passage. Perhaps that: leaders should deal wisely in situations where division might be further emphasized by their mere weighing in on a matter. Or maybe: sometimes you have to let the entire congregation wrestle with an issue (baptized with prayer, of course) for the sake of unity. Maybe you can even draw out that: some responsibilities can be handled by other people beside the core leadership but here I should raise a point.
Some have incorrectly deduced from this passage that this is the Biblical pattern for the selection of Deacons (even highlighting the term in the text) because there is absolutely no text in Scripture that dictates how Deacons were selected or appointed. Sure there’s plenty about elders being appointed, but never about deacons and here, in Acts 6, some have made this the model for the choosing of the office—but there’s no warrant for that in the text.
After all, there’s other non-technical uses of deacon in the Bible (Matt 20:26; 22:13; John 2:5; Rom 13:4; 2 Cor 3:6; Eph 3:7; Col 1:25) and there were plenty of other churches that didn’t have Deacons while the Elders were the ones doing Deacon-work (Acts 14:23; 1 Thes 5:12; Titus 1:5. Of course, in these texts it might be that the churches don’t yet need Deacons because the Elders are able to teach, pray and work; or maybe the assembly is still young; or maybe the work still isn’t large enough to mandate it—the point should be clear: these addresses to these churches doesn’t mention deacons). The text isn’t demanding that This Is How It Must Be Done but rather telling us about a situation where certain individuals wound up getting picked to serve a specific need.
(6) Small groups got together in the home-meetings. This doesn’t really show that the early Church had two types of meeting. Maybe it just shows that the church sometimes met openly at the temple (while preaching to the unconverted) and at other times they met in homes. Sometimes they met near (or at Acts 3:1-3; or in Acts 2:45) the temple, and sometimes they met further away in homes (Acts 2:46). As you get further out from central meeting places they kept meeting in homes—but not as small groups but as assemblies (1 Cor 16:19; Acts 20:20; Romans 16:5; Col 4:15). Sometimes these small assemblies gathered for big events (Acts 20:20); Sometimes, some smaller groups even tried to meet in the temples of other gods (1 Cor 8:9-10).
As above, it can be argued that what these home meetings were actually several churches due to the amount of converted in Israel!
The fact is that once the Jews repulsed the Gospel, the Church wound up having to not meet in the temple or synagogues at all. Paul would go and argue in synagogues to unbelieving Jews but then he’d go and meet with the church who met at the river or at the house or wherever. This shows that (1) the assembly of believers is not restricted to any building (John 4:21-24) and possibly (2) the assembly of believers should be as a group small enough to fit in a home even if that necessarily isn’t the case and maybe (3) this house church isn’t really under the leadership of a greater unifying Mega Church. In other words, the Church that meets at X home isn’t a small group from the greater church that meets at an official building but it is actually the assembly of the Church that meets there in that house. They break bread there. They have elders there. They are not a subset of another place that has the real elders.
(7) Small groups can actually fulfill the mandates in Scripture in regard to caring for one another, etc. This is not an argument for a smaller group within the greater local church that can do all these things. Rather this is an argument for either (1) a smaller church or (2) the need to extend our love, prayers, and burdens to a bigger group than only those few people near us. After all, Peter says honor all men (1 Pet 2:17) and by that he’s not saying to redefine “all”; by making it a smaller group. So when he says “love the brotherhood”; he’s similarly not saying “limit the brotherhood to a smaller group that you can love”;. Christ tells us to love each other so that all men may know we’re his disciples (John 13:35)—this is far easier if it were just your wife and a few others; much more difficult when you have those abrasive Brill-o brethren who are part of the local assembly.
(8) Small groups have been effectively used. Large groups have also been used effectively throughout Church History. Nicaea. Geneva. Big tent revival meetings. The idea that only small groups are effective in the ministry of the Gospel both is historically false and unnecessarily misunderstands God’s abilities.
(9) Small home groups are less intimidating. Maybe. But the Gospel is also intimidating. And so are morals. And so is the subjection to one another for love and discipline. And so are paintings of people praying on the kitchen wall. And so are people sitting in a circle praying to an all-powerful invisible being who is asked to weigh in on things. This winds up not really being an argument for a smaller group to branch off from the whole but rather an appeal about being pragmatic and sensitive to the seeker. And okay, maybe a home would be more welcoming than a building with large wooden doors and Luther’s 95 Theses etched into it but then that wouldn’t be an argument for a small group. It would be an argument for the local church to meet in a home.
An Equally Unconvincing Argument for Mega-Churches
In an effort at showing how someone can take the opposite position and project it as Biblical, I want to quickly sketch a possible argument. The reason I do this isn’t because I believe it, but rather because at this point it seems that that is exactly what this Small Groups Are Biblical thing is doing. So here’s Seven Perfect Points for A Mega Church.
- Perfect Point 1: Big Church Groups are actually in Scripture unlike Small Church Groups. Although the word “Big Church”; isn’t there God’s mandate to man was to multiply. Small groups goes against that repeated mandate (Gen 1:28; 9:1; Psalms 127:3-5)
- Perfect Point 2: Jesus continued the pattern by commanding that his church grow. (Matthew 13:31 -32). Indeed, a sign that the church is blessed is that the Church has grown (Acts 11:21)
- Perfect Point 3: Jesus wants a full house and is willing to go out of his way to ensure that it is filled (Luke 14:23).
- Perfect Point 4: The Early Church was large. We see that the first church had 3,000 members (Acts 2:41) and as they met, it got bigger (Acts 4:4; 6:7). Small groups are antithetical to largeness.
- Perfect Point 5: A large church is a mini-picture of heaven, which consists of a multitude of every nation and tribe (Rev 7:9). Indeed, a large church is not homogenous like smaller groups.
- Perfect Point 6: The World notices a large church. They stand out as an obvious place where Christians are.
- Perfect Point 7: Only a large church has the practical means to provide robust fellowship, a wide range of teaching, and countless opportunities for evangelism within a thriving community.
Well, I think these are all pretty weak and they suffer from the same thing that the SGPs argument suffers from: no real Biblical support but a sort of casual proof-texting under the pseudo-header of “Biblical Principle”;.
At this point, I think I can approach my conclusion.
So, Must We Have Small Groups Within the Church?
Admittedly, small group ministries are not necessarily unbiblical but I can’t see them being Biblically mandated either: it’s not a must. It’s more like a position that needed Biblical justification instead of grounding it in the gray haze of conscience and convictions. I understand that sometimes we like to have our personal convictions become law (obviously I’m speaking about non-moral issues instead of abject sin. more like: a cup of wine instead of drunkenness; smoking a pipe instead of addictively smoking; mowing the lawn on Sundays instead of forsaking the assembling of believers; dating instead of fornication) but that’s not really how God’s Word expects us to deal with things.
Repeatedly the New Testament approaches a lot of these issues as with adult sons who have the Gospel in hand and are now trying to figure out how to operate with it. That’s tremendously different from hunting and gathering some principle that justifies my conviction and then heaping it on others as if denying it is un-Christian at best and abject disobedience at worse.
At most, what could be gathered from some of these church-size arguments is that the local assembly should consist of a manageable group that is not necessarily tied to a church building and it grows outwards creating other manageable groups that are not tied to a church building.
Perhaps these eddies of the river which consists of the local church will each have leadership that meets together to discuss important situations (Acts 20) but not necessarily as part of the Main Assembly. In the past, I’ve pretty much argued that we’ve contrived broken systems that are still the Local Church but that doesn’t justify us doing this. Creating smaller entities within a church is merely creating a smaller meeting of the Church and most likely potentially creating an unnecessary division. In my mind, it is more likely to create homogenous cliques that have a veneer of niceness to those outside of the clique while going no deeper but that’s the vain imaginings of one who always sees the worst.
The assemblies I’ve been have either been (A) a small group where the entire assembly consisted of about twenty people or (B) a larger group where everyone knew one another but tighter friendships would naturally happen in the process of people getting to know each other. These groups might not necessarily be cliques, but they’d operate within the larger group as a group of friends within friends. That seems fairly obvious.
I’ve also known assemblies that employ (C) small groups that meet throughout the week but don’t have a full church assembling except on Sunday. And even then, some of the individuals may not feel beholden to the other groups there. That’s problematic. But that’s not always the case. I’ve known assemblies that are (D) really smaller churches within a larger church or (E) have smaller groups that the members interchange within other smaller groups or (F) are just one big group that has all group meetings successfully.
The meeting of the assembly is, apparently, organic while the actual Biblical principles (leadership, loving one another, evangelism, grounded in God’s Word) operate even if they’re very often besmirched by the sinfulness of people.
And we have to admit that due to the sinfulness of people, Small Group Meetings can also be twisted.
First it’s the homogenous nature of them. Barna did a study on Sunday School, Small Groups and House Churches back in 2010 and showed some interesting data. For example, these small groups are typically missing single people. I don’t think this is enough of a reason to stop having small group meetings but it might be enough to ask why?Is it cool to have a small group that leaves certain folk unwelcome in practice but not in invitation? For example, what about a small group of single, white Christians? Or maybe just black people in a local assembly?
Second it’s often an environment of unnecessary potential corporate discipline. Remember, these aren’t friends that are getting together on this or that evening for dinner or something; this is a program that is implemented within the assembly for the express purpose of emphasizing fellowship and discipleship. Anyone who disagrees with this model is actually acting outside of the desire of the elders and the local assembly. That’s automatically a matter that needs addressing. Hebrews 13 is speaking about not-neglecting the assembling of ourselves together as a church—nothing about a small group!
Third, it’s an opportunity for creating an environment conducive to division. Now, one might be quick to note that this is a matter of spiritual discipline of the leadership and the assembly and that is true. But I can’t see this situation actually occurring in a smaller church that meets as a whole without the smaller divisions. Yes it is true that unity doesn’t require constantly being in the same physical location but it is also true that the need for division is conceivably harder when you are in the same physical location. Of course, SGMPs would be quick to point our churches that are physically in the same location but lack unity. Fine, but the existence of that aberration doesn’t mean that we should create an environment where that sort of thing can more easily percolate. A doctor would be quick to point out that it is impossible to disinfect an air-filled environment of all possible contagions (germs, bacteria, etc.) but that doesn’t mean that one should then perform surgery in a sewer.
Fourth, it’s a program that potentially bolsters pride. I know too many people that are already proud that they’re doing church according to the model of the New Testament pattern. I can easily imagine folk thumbing their noses at other assemblies that don’t have a small group ministry—and we already actually see this happening! It’s an unfortunate thing. And yes, the same charge can be leveled at Big Churches, or churches that meet in homes, or churches where there’s a pulpit up front (or not). Like I said, the sinfulness of people knows no bounds and yet in this area, I can easily see this matter of pride not only against people outside the assembly (a common occurrence, no doubt) but against those within the assembly that don’t come out to the small group meetings. The single people. The widowed. People who disagree with the thing in general.
In conclusion, I personally think that if the church is large, they should break into smaller assemblies (not group meetings) with their own elders in their own areas—not because its Biblically mandated but because I lean that way. In my mind, it’s better that these small groups are actually just churches that meet in houses (or schools, or parks, or whatever) and relate to each other as sister assemblies than it would be to be a group of thousands that then subdivides to get to know each other—but that’s me. I also think that if it’s a group of seventy five, or a hundred, or something that just doesn’t fit in a home that small group gatherings might happen naturally as friendships form but they shouldn’t be part of the bulletin or whatever. They’re merely gatherings of friends and leave it at that.
So Must Churches Have A Small Groups Ministry for Growth, Discipleship and Fellowship? No, I don’t think so. Should they have a small groups ministry for fellowship, discipleship and outreach? I guess they can while making sure to be careful with the potential problems, but it’s not necessarily The Biblically mandated model. Are they integral for fellowship, discipleship and outreach? I don’t think they’re integral though I think a smaller church is more helpful to individuals than larger ones.
Christian History : 100 Most important events in church history. 1990; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic ed.). Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today. “Many Methodist denominations today (worldwide, the Methodist communion numbers some 50 million people) still embrace those notable elements of the Wesleys’ ministry: an emphasis upon preaching; the organization of small groups for prayer and Bible study (the equivalent of the Methodist societies, and an important element of present church-growth strategies)…”;
Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (1990). Exodus. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (413). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. ‘Amazingly enough, Moses listened to his father-in-law. Bush (Exodus 1:230) remarks, “The great Jehovah did not disdain to permit his prophet to be taught by the wisdom and intelligence of a good man, though he was not of the commonwealth of Israel. It is not a little remarkable that the very first rudiments of the Jewish polity were thus suggested by a stranger and a Midianite.”;’