Life Groups

Life Groups

Building Relationships / Life Groups

Acts 2:42 “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” 

Let us direct our thoughts to fellowship, and specifically to the benefits and outcomes of having closer relationships among our Christian friends.  Our world today is in a position where Americans have become some of the loneliest people in the world.  As Christians, we are meant to be involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters.  The typical church member comes to church one or two times a week, spends about two hours at the building and interacts for about 15 minutes with their fellow Christians.  Church is great – But what a shame that we aren’t fully reaping all the benefits that Jesus intended in His church community!

We’ve been working on a plan to utilize geographically-friendly small groups (or LIFE GROUPS) of 10 – 15 persons each to renew the fellowship aspect of what the church is meant to provide.  One source of information that describes what occurs with small group study / friendship uses the acronym SHARE:

S: Serve others.  Time spent together makes us more apt to help and be helped as our needs arise.

H: Healing spiritually through sharing our life stories and lives with each other.

A: Applying the word of God in our lives together.

R: Relationship building / deepening as we spend more time together

E: Evangelizing comes easier when we build confidence in our faith in a group setting!

Leading Life Groups

Last week we introduced the concept of Life Groups – This week we will talk some more about their purpose and group leadership.  The way we see it, Life Groups will: Help our membership fulfill the intent of Acts 2:42: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers"; Bring our membership to deeper, more satisfying relationships which support our needs as individuals and as a society; Deepen our understanding of Scripture especially in the area of how we apply Scripture in our lives; and  Provide a platform to enable our members to fulfill the needs of our community.

Any time we have a group that meets to fulfill a purpose, we need a Leader – and if a group is meeting at a home, we need to have a Host (or Hosts – more later).  We met with some interested folks last Wednesday night to discuss some details of both Leading and Hosting. 

Leading will be made very simple so that anyone willing shouldn’t have any problems (except for a few butterflies during the first meeting!).  Once that first meeting is underway, you’ll find that this is such a comfortable atmosphere that leading a group is a pleasure.  The leader’s responsibilities will include determining a few “norms” of how the individual group will function (first meeting only – figuring out who else may want to lead/host, best time to meet, whether you are going to have no food, a snack, a meal, etc.), facilitating the study application discussion using prepared material based on that Sunday’s sermon, and communicating back to the church on how things are going, attendance, etc.

Life Group Experience

Hosting can be made extremely simple – You will just be providing your home to host the group.  (Dawn and I always loved to host in Richmond because we didn’t have to leave the house!) Your group can determine if you want to mix up hosting on a weekly basis, etc. – you do whatever works for your group!

A typical Life Group experience would be: Everyone meets and greets for a few minutes, until the leader has to break it up to get the study started.  Some groups with children may choose to sing a few songs (especially if they have some budding L2L song leaders trying to practice!). Children typically leave the group with one adult (the responsibilities can be shared each week to study with the kids).  The adults start the study with a prayer, then the scripture / topical note is read that is going to be reviewed.  Questions are asked to start the group talking about the verses at hand, generally to provide a basis for the group to carry on the discussion. Once discussion is exhausted, the real-world application of what was studied is pointed out one more time and at some point, time is called for the study to end.  At that time most groups choose to eat a bite, talk some more, and finally go home.

Hopefully, this sounds like an irresistible way for you to interact with and learn about your fellow brothers and sisters in our church!  We want everyone to be a part of a Life Group at some point in our future.

Life Group Hosting & Experience

Hosting can be made extremely simple – You will just be providing your home to host the group.  (Dawn and I always loved to host in Richmond because we didn’t have to leave the house!) Your group can determine if you want to mix up hosting on a weekly basis, etc. – you do whatever works for your group. As was noted in an earlier Life Group article, your group may want to eat a meal, a snack, or nothing at all.  Typically, the host is not asked to provide food –normally they are making last minute cleanups before everyone arrives!

Now for the typical Life Group meeting experience!  Everyone meets and greets for a few minutes, until the leader has to break it up to get the study started.  Some groups with children may choose to sing a few songs (especially if they have some budding L2L song leaders trying to practice!). Children typically leave the group and are taught by one adult/teen (the responsibilities can be shared each week to study with the kids).  The adults start the study with a prayer, then the scripture / topical note is read that is going to be reviewed.   Questions are asked to start the group talking about the verses at hand, generally to provide a basis for the group to carry on the discussion. Once discussion is exhausted, the real-world application of what was studied is pointed out one more time and at some point, time is called for the study to end.  At that time, most groups choose to eat a bite, talk some more, and finally go home.

Hopefully, this sounds like an irresistible way for you to interact with and learn about your fellow brothers and sisters in our church!  We want everyone to be a part of a Life Group at some point in our future.

The Beauty of Being Together

If you have never been part of a church small group, it might be difficult to appreciate their beauty. To be sure, the case for small groups is often overstated, as in, “small groups are really where church happens.” To say “Small Groups = Church” is to miss Scripture’s emphasis on the corporate worship practiced by our congregation.  God wants us to assemble!  Orlando Saer puts it well: “The basic ‘unit’ of the church is the church itself, not some subdivision of it.” Small groups are not the essence of the church.

BUT - Without something like a small group ministry, it can be difficult for Christians to reflect the biblical pattern of loving, communal life.  Again, Saer is helpful: “Small groups can be a very helpful means of achieving ends which certainly are demanded by the Bible of Christian churches.” The Bible does not demand “house churches.” But there is an undeniable beauty in church members meeting both publicly AND in homes. Christ’s followers break bread together as a united family during the Lord’s Supper and should as smaller groups “break bread” around tables where common life happens!

Small groups can help us develop a greater sense of Christian community in a disconnected age. They can facilitate the formation of deeper Christian friendships, encourage greater spiritual accountability among church members, and become a natural opportunity for inviting unbelieving and unchurched (or under-churched) neighbors to interact with our covenant community.

Small groups should never take the place of the church. But they can provide a setting where the church begins to experience the kind of closeness that will characterize the life of the redeemed in the age to come.

There are many reasons why small group fellowship meetings have been an important part of Christian experience throughout the ages. In the next few weeks, we will discuss 10 points more deeply that explain the beauty of small groups.

We are praying that when we start our small groups program (Life Groups) that it will become an important part of all our Christian lives.

Life Groups (continued)

 Discipleship - Small groups provide opportunities for believers to learn from each other as they apply the gospel within the intimacy of close relationships. “Who is Jesus?” is critical to hear from the pulpit. But we also need friends to help us wrestle through that question face to face. We need people who are willing to get to know us so they can help us more faithfully walk with Christ (Remember Apollos being helped by Priscilla and Aquilla? Acts 18:24–26).

 Study - Some Christian groups meet to discuss and apply Scripture. Of course, there are pitfalls to group Bible study (Misunderstandings? Disagreements? Surely not !!!) but these can be prevented by everyone     agreeing up front that no matter the topic, we gather as Christians in love, and we leave as Christians in love. But by discussing and applying Scripture together, members can learn to understand not only the Bible, but also each other, so that each will know better how to love the other. The combination of interesting questions, solid applications, and eager learners, all exchanging ideas together, can be powerful.

Curiosity - When small group leaders cultivate an environment of openness and trust, group members are encouraged to ask questions they might not ask elsewhere. “I heard Steve use the word ‘justification’ today - What does it mean?”, or “I was talking to a person who believes something totally different – Can we discuss that issue next week?”   There are no questions that a loving small group can’t hash out – and no shame in    asking.

Accountability - When we think about church accountability, we are right to think about elders (Titus 1:5–9). But elders should first equip God’s people to work out their problems          together. Every member should encourage and gently urge their brothers and sisters to better follow the Lord (Matt. 18:15–20; Gal. 6:1–2). But how can we exhort others to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3) if we rarely witness them practice the faith outside of corporate worship?

Shepherding - If small groups can help believers assist each other, they can also help elders shepherd their flocks with greater familiarity and empathy. Model-elder Paul “lived among” the believers at Asia (Acts 20:18) so that he knew how to proclaim what was helpful from house to house (v. 20). If we as members feel that our elders do not know us well enough to help us through the tears and trials of life, small groups can help close the shepherding gap.

Evangelism - If we truly believe in the power of grace—and that God works his grace through the official proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the Lord’s Supper—then we should want the “uninformed” and “unbelievers” to be present in our corporate worship on Sundays, so that they too will     worship God as they sense his presence (1 Cor. 14:22–27). Small group meetings can be an important stepping stone to church worship. Likewise, many church members might find it easier invite friends to a small group who aren’t ready to come to church.

Hospitality - Many believers feel drawn to practice the biblical command of loving those around them (Heb. 13:2, Rom. 12:13, etc.), but they don’t always know how to begin. The very thought of hosting non-family members can be intimidating!! But as believers gather in homes for food and  spiritual conversation, those present can witness hospitality in action – and most find it isn’t difficult after all.

Commitment - We’ve always had a number of guests or occasional visitors “orbiting” our church; they are considering landing but not sure if or how they can. Small groups can provide a way for those who are trying—or considering whether they would like to try—to break into the life of our church.

Prayer - In the New Testament believers prayed together “with one accord” (Acts 4:24). Believers pray in private and in their family networks. In corporate worship, we pray silently while a leader voices the words for our church community. But in small groups, children and parents, neighbors and friends, elders and new      converts help each other come before the throne of grace, voicing praise and petitions in a deeply personal    atmosphere. In the small group setting, we can learn to pray as we come to appreciate the universal fatherhood of God among believers.

Socializing - Fellowship is not a spiritually-neutral activity. As we catch up with friends and make new ones, we practice our calling to understand and love each other. As we share and listen to stories, we learn how others are attempting to pull together and make one their common and sacred life.  We begin to value each  other in a much deeper understanding of just who our fellow members really are.