A Biblical Basis for Small Groups
Have you ever taken the time to consider one of the greatest marvels of God’s creation – your body? It’s such an efficient system that works to sustain life. What is even more amazing is that this efficient system is made up of tiny units of cells that measure as small as 8 micrometers (10 times smaller the diameter of a human hair). Scientists estimate that the body of an average person contains around 30 to 40 trillion cells – depending on whether or not one includes the bacteria in and on our bodies! (PhD, 2019 Medical News Today)
It is from this concept of the working of the human body that the church – which is described by the Apostle Paul as the body of Christ – derived the metaphorical terminology of cell group – the small group gathering of believers that give life to the church. Today we will be looking at the Biblical basis of small groups – the why of small groups– and with a grounded understanding, we will see why we desire for small groups to form the life of the church here at ICC Imara.
Acts 2:46 – Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homesand ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
Acts 5:42 – Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
The book of Acts records an exponential growth in the number of those who became followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. From a group of 120 believers who gathered in the upper room in Acts 1:15, the number shoots up to 3,000 in one day at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). The numbers continued to be added daily (Acts 2:47) and in Acts 4:4 we have a record of 5,000 men – not counting women & children. In Acts 6:7 it’s recorded that the numbers of those who believed was multiplying and in Acts 21:20 it’s recorded that there are “thousands who believed” – this thousands in the original text refers to a myriad i.e. 100,000 believers out of the estimated population of 200,000 in Jerusalem at the time. So what we are looking at here is a mega church! Where did all these people meet? How did they ensure that those who came to the faith not only stayed in the faith but also grew in the faith? How did they manage do to such effective outreach? Acts 2:46 & 5:42 gives us the answer – they met in temple courts for corporate worship and smaller gatherings in their homes for fellowship.
Moses & Jethro
This model of large meetings & small group gathering to manage the numbers for effective ministry and giving life to the church was not something that started with the early church. In the Old Testament, in Exodus 18, we see Moses shepherding what Biblical scholars believe to be about 3 million people. Morning to evening, he was the judge, counselor, teacher and decision maker for all these people. Obviously as His father-in-law pointed out, this work was too heavy for Moses, it was wearing him out and it was clear to see why he had no time for his family. Added to this the waiting queues must have been extremely long and the people must have felt a level of frustration in having their issues dealt with. Jethro proceeded to suggest changes in Moses’ approach. He reminded Moses of his role as the people’s representative before God, advised him to teach the people God’s decrees & laws corporately, show them how to live practically and remind them of their duties. After corporate teaching, Moses was advised to place select individuals over smaller groups of people according to their individual capacities whether it is for 10, 50, 100 or 1000. These support leaders would take care of the day today concerns while only the most difficult issues would come to Moses. Moses saw the wisdom in this plan and implemented the suggestion saving both himself and the congregation of the people. One can only imagine the big load off Moses and relief of the people in knowing they will not have to wait for ages to get their issues sorted.
Nehemiah rebuilding the wall
Nehemiah also gives us a model of small groups. After selling the vision of rebuilding the wall to the people in Jerusalem corporately in Nehemiah 2, in Chapter 3, Nehemiah assigns the work in sections to small groups. A reading of the constitution of these groups reveals different criteria: families, similar professions and those from the same geographical area. This just goes to point out at the diversity of small groups that can be formed in a congregation! This arrangement of small groups, must have contributed to the record time in which the wall was built – there was a common vision and unity of purpose in the larger group that was owned by each small group, leading to them contributing their time, energy and expertise to its accomplishment. Once again, in this, we see a Biblical model of the effectiveness of small groups.
Jesus as he was launching into ministry formed a small group of 12 men, and within the twelve, he had another smaller intimate group of 3 men – Peter, James & John. Jesus also demonstrated the same principle of ministry when He fed the five thousand (Mk.6:34-44; Lk. 9:14-15). It would be difficult for one person to feed 5000 hungry men (women & children not counted). In preparation for the miracle feeding after corporate teaching, Jesus instructed the disciples to have the multitudes sit on the ground in companies of 50 and 100. Then he broke the bread, gave it to His disciples who in turn distributed it to the people. Jesus had a plan to feed (pastor, shepherd) His people. One person could not reasonably do it all. If all are going to eat to their fill and no one is going to be overlooked, there must be a strategy – and once again, here we see the small groups strategy. One can only imagine that the people in smaller groups must have marveled over and spent time discussing the teaching and miracle by Jesus– this was food & fellowship in a small group!
ICC Imara – our vision for small groups
As a church we are now averaging an attendance of 1200 in the main church, 160 in our youth church, 100 teens (during the school holidays) and 800 children in Next Gen. We have witnessed many coming to the Lord during our services, so we do anticipate much growth in the coming days – and indeed Jesus himself said that the “harvest is plenty”.
With a multiplication of people there will be multiplication of needs as seen in the same church we referred to in the book of Acts. In chapter 6, when the number of the disciples multiplied suddenly problems, murmuring and greater needs arose. Until they delegated the work to seven other men to take care of specific groups, the apostles found themselves ineffective in attending to prayer and teaching of the word as they concerned themselves with the needs of the people.
How can we as a church effectively reach out and also minister to the needs of the people? Can the pastors ministering two hours on Sunday & one hour during a mid-week service effectively get the job done? How do we ensure every person receives ministry and that they are just not a number in our records? How do we touch this community we live in? What will it take for us to live up to our mission statement of connecting people to God and to each other, challenging believers to Christlikeness and changing the World? We believe the answer is in adopting small groups – not as a church program but as mentioned in the beginning, these will be the basic units – the cells – that will bring life to the body of Christ that gathers in this local assembly we call ICC Imara.
Before looking at how we practically hope to implement this Biblical model of small groups here at ICC Imara, we are going to draw from the Biblical models some of the main purposes of the small groups (also borrowed from Growing Strong Churches by Bill Scheidler):
- Building Relationships and Fellowship
We have about 59 verses in the New Testament with the phrase “One-another”. God clearly wants us as individual members of the church to be more closely linked so that needs are met – this happens easily in a small group.
- Assimilating New People into the Church
Whether people are newly saved or simply new to ICC, a small group provides a means for them to quickly feel a part of the church. It takes several years to feel a part of a crowd, but in a few brief contacts in an intimate setting, people can feel loved, cared for and needed.
- Evangelism & source of social transformation
Door-to-door evangelism is great, but of greater impact and less intimidation is evangelism through inviting your long-time neighbor to attend your small group in your neighborhood – or using your small group to influence rules & regulations in your area of residence.
- Releasing People into Their Gifts and Ministries
The Bible mentions that every believer has a gift that they should exercise accordingly. The large corporate worship does not provide opportunity for all these gifts to be exercised – but there is greater opportunity in small groups
- Identifying and Multiplying Leaders
Small group approach opens the door of opportunity to many in our congregation to lead in a significant way. It also affords those especially gifted to be identified and released to greater areas of responsibility.
- Accountability and Personal Growth
The small group is a great place to go over the Word that is being emphasized in the corporate life of the church to assist in accountability and seeing that word established in the life of individual believers. It is a place where the more mature believers can serve as a pattern and an encouragement to those who are not living up to their potential in the grace of God.
- Effective Pastors
Just as in the case of Moses and the apostles in the book of Acts, when the work of ministry is distributed in small groups, the pastors are freed more to study, teach God’s word and pray – equipping the saints better, being more effective in representing God to the people and the people to God.
Our call to you to belong
Our vision at ICC Imara therefore is to follow the Biblical pattern in the following ways:
- Concentrate in public (in the temple) worship and on the preaching and teaching of the Word, focusing on principles of practical living – putting the tools in people’s hands to use God’s Word for wise living.
- Encourage each one of us to belong to a small group (house to house). Our geographical groups, Connecting Groups (CGs), will be our main small groups.
- We will zone or cluster our CGs into geographical areas/sectors
- Work to train and equip individuals to function as leaders of small groups and sectors.
Will you be part of those that will contribute life to the church by being part of a CG? Will you proudly say that “i-belong?”
Pastor Tony Amisi