Why Small Groups?

Small groups play a powerful role in the local church. In previous posts I’ve talked about recruiting small group leaders, equipping leaders, creating alignment in your small group ministry, and promoting small groups. But what is the driving force behind all of these efforts? Why are relationships so crucial in the church?

When each one of us was born, we were born into the global family of human beings. But God also designed us to belong to a specific family…a place where we find nurture, care, love, and safety. The same principle is true with our spiritual family—the family of God. 1 Peter 1:3 says, “All honor to God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; for it is his boundless mercy that has given us the privilege of being born again so that we are now members of God’s own family. Now we live in the hope of eternal life because Christ rose again from the dead.” Rick Warren says:

“You become a part of the human family by your first birth, but you become a member of God’s family by your second birth.”

So what happens in our spiritual family? Being rooted in relationships with other Christ followers empowers an extraordinary process of connecting and growing. A foundational truth is at work:

Relationships are a place to belong and become.

Sociologists suggest that our society is experiencing “crowded loneliness.” Although we’re surrounded by people, we lack a sense of belonging. In fact, research by the Gallup organization revealed that seven in ten do not know their neighbors. Furthermore, one-third of Americans often experience loneliness. These feelings are also prevalent in the church. Author Randy Frazee observes:

“The ‘hard to swallow’ premise is that today’s church is not a community but rather a collection of individuals.”

Meaning is found in the context of relationships. We find meaning in our relationship with God. We find meaning in our relationship with our family. And we find meaning in our relationship with the family of God. In Romans 12, the apostle Paul makes a comparison between our physical bodies and the family of God.

In this way we are like the various parts of a human body.  Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around.  The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people.  Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body.  But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? (Romans 12:4-5 MSG)

The organs in your body find their purpose and meaning when they are connected to your body. If your heart, lungs, or kidneys were cut out of  your body, they wouldn’t have any meaning or function. Your organs only have meaning when they are connected to your body. The same is true in the body of Christ. We find meaning when we are connected to Christ’s body…to His family.

Unfortunately, some followers of Christ do not think the church (the family of God) is necessary. In fact, some people do not even like, much less love, the church. They proudly tout, “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” There’s just one problem with that statement: The Bible calls the church, “The Bride of Christ” and “The Body of Christ.” How can you love the Head but not the body. As Rick Warren observes, that would be like me saying, “I love you, but I hate your wife.”

You might say, “But you don’t know how other Christians have hurt me.” You’re right, I don’t know. But I do know this: Pain caused by the body of Christ is not a license to cut-off the body of Christ. Ephesians 2:19 says, “Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”

When we receive Christ, we BELONG to the GLOBAL family of God. However, it’s very difficult to feel like you’re part of a family when it consists of billions of members. So what does God call us to do? He calls us to be involved in the LOCAL family of God…the local church.  But it’s still easy to hide in an auditorium where we worship God and listen to His Word. To truly belong, we must connect with a small group of people where we can experience community. Acts 2:46 says, “They worshiped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness,”

The early church understood, if people are going to truly belong, they have to be in a small group environment where they can be known. Regardless of your personality type—whether you’re an extrovert or introvert—every one of us need community. Not only do we need community, we need it frequently.

Relationships are a place to belong. They are a place to be known and to experience community. But they are also a place to become.  Ephesians 4:15-16 says:

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.

To “become” is about growing into who God intended us to be. Again, that happens best in the context of relationships. Relationships are a place to belong and a place to become.

In his book, Vital Friends, Tom Rath shares a story about a colleague named Rebecca. In a conversation with Rebecca, she described how relationships affect her diet and physical health. She noted that while dating a former competitive wrestler, her eating patterns quickly began to mirror his “extreme diet.” Being a wrestler all his life, he was used to loading up on pizza, cheesesteaks, and milkshakes—and then going two days in a row without eating to take off the weight.

Rebecca described how she would “eat the same junk he did” at mealtime, but then went back to her normal eating habits during his two-day starvation routine. Even though her boyfriend was able to maintain a normal weight on this not-so-healthy diet, Rebecca gained 15 pounds.

After listening to Rebecca’s story about how her relationship had shaped her diet, Tom decided to ask 104 colleagues to respond to a brief questionnaire about their own diet and their best friend’s diet. The results were amazing. Those who reported having a best friend with a  “very healthy” diet were more than five times as likely to have a very healthy diet themselves, when compared to people who had best friends with an average diet.

When Tom asked a similar question about “your best friend’s level of physical activity,” the results were just as shocking. In fact, of the 104 people surveyed, among those who had a best friend who was not physically active, NOT ONE was very physically active themselves. A few months later Tom and his team asked a random sampling of 1,005 people the same questions about diet and exercise and found similar results.

Why do I bring this up? Because when you share a common goal with somebody, you have a greater likelihood of success. When your goal is to become more like Christ, the journey is more successful when you take it with others who share the same goal. Relationships make becoming possible. As one man said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Here’s what the apostle Paul said about “Becoming”:

“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God bring the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Andy Stanley and Bill Willits observed, “Our enemy’s most successful strategy is to isolate us so he can attack and destroy us. Sheep are never attacked in herds. Sheep are attacked when they become isolated from the rest of the flock.” If we want to BELONG and BECOME, it happens best when we engage in community with other Christ followers. Do you belong to the family of God? Do you belong to the local church? Do you belong to a small group community who share a common goal to be more like Jesus?