At the last PCA General Assembly I was amazed when some 150 people came to a seminar I led on small group ministry. (I had prepared for 25 thinking I might have 10.) Those who came represented a variety of situations. Some wanted to know how to start a small group ministry. Others wanted tips for enhancing already thriving ministries.
Small group ministry is not new-or even relatively new. I remember how many Christians viewed small groups with suspicion in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, if you don’t have such a ministry you’re out of step. It’s become a major component in discipleship efforts.
First century believers met regularly in homes. These were relatively small groups. The Methodists, who got their name because they had a method, met each week in groups. It was part of the method. One question they asked was, “how is it with your soul?” The Sunday school has, for the most part, been a small group ministry.
What churches presently call small groups are in place in part because our living situations have become so transient and relations so scattered that the need for connectedness is often acute. Small groups, in some measure, help plug that gap.
Last May, as the group I led was winding down for the summer, I asked them to talk about their reaction to our previous ten months of meetings. One couple said that this was the primary means by which they had gotten to know some people in the congregation. That’s not unusual.
But small group ministry is a program. Like any program it should be viewed as a means to an end. If you don’t have a clear idea what you want a program to accomplish its value ought to be seriously questioned. To put it another way: don’t have a small group ministry because you think everyone else has one.
My purpose in small group ministry is threefold. I obtained this outline from Lynn Coleman a number of years ago:
- Bible study: Actually I would broaden it to say “worship”. Each group needs to base their discussions on the Scripture. Further, I want each group at Covenant Church, where I work, to have a significant time of prayer. That is Covenant Church at prayer.
- The opportunity to tell your story: Everybody has a story to tell. Often those most reluctant to begin are ones who talk the longest. Over time those stories are seen in the light of the biblical message.
- Task: At Covenant we do much of our mercy ministry through our groups. We’ve often encouraged Lyman Coleman’s empty chair-praying that someone will fill that chair in the group.
- If you want to re-examine the purpose of your group ministry the three-legged stool is a good plan to start.