Small Groups - the BIG picture

New Year, New Small Groups

Since we started Christ Church Walkley, Small Groups have been a significant part of our life together. They’ve been vehicles for serving on a Sunday, evangelism, pastoral care and discipleship amongst other things. There’s something to be said for keeping groups running for an extended period; the trust, openness and depth of prayer that comes from reading the Bible and praying together can’t easily be shortcut. That said, after five years we felt it was time to refresh and relaunch the groups, to give them a new lease of life. Inevitably that begs the question of what are our small groups meeting for, what’s the purpose of them, what are they trying to achieve? Small groups have become the ‘done thing’ in many churches, but often there is a lack of clarity of what their purpose is. Are they bible study groups? Prayer groups? Friendship/support groups? Small churches? A bit of everything?

Over a small series of four posts I want to explore some of the key things that I think should make up the purpose of our Small Groups, and might be helpful to others elsewhere.

The Big Picture

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV

Whilst not about small groups directly, there isn’t really a biblical conception of small groups in the way we have them, I think these verses help us see the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to 'grow up’ and make ‘the body grow.’ In one sense it’s that straightforward, small groups are there to make us grow up together into Christ, to be more like him. Here I just want to point out three things from this passage that show us a little bit about how that happens. 

Firstly, it’s something we do together, the passage talks about us all growing up together as one body. Christian maturity and Christian growth happens together. It requires the interactions with one another, to work together, to serve one another, to build one another up. It’s not a solo enterprise. Trying to grow up into Christ on our own, by choice, is a sign of Christian immaturity.

Secondly, notice that a significant mechanism for growth is speaking, and a particular kind of speech. We are to speak ‘the truth’ to one another - the gospel truth. Growth doesn’t come from simply speaking honestly to one another, although we should be. But by speaking the gospel into one another’s lives day by day, week by week. Small groups should be refuge from the pressures of the world, to conform to other ways of thinking, to have a different Lord. Small Groups are where we remind one another of the truth of the gospel and our Lord Jesus.

Thirdly, we do all of this in the context of love. Notice how the passage starts telling us to 'speak the truth in love’ and finishes describing the body of Christ building itself up in love. Love for Jesus and for one another is the basis for our growth and the criterion for assessing our growth. small groups should be a context where our love for Jesus and one another can be shown in our speech and actions. And, if our small groups are working properly, we should be seeing an increase in our love for Jesus and one another over time.

Small groups are more than bible study groups, more than prayer groups, more than support groups. They should probably include elements of those, but they are all means by which we can speak the truth to one another in love so that we grow up!

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