Last week and this week are closely linked together because we’re talking about attendance or gathering at church being one of the essentials in the Christian life. Ken talked about Hebrews 10:19-25, the LETTUCE passages regarding this New and Living Way:
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Life groups and Sunday School classes are an essential part of church. In a broad sense, these groups and classes are a way to share life together as we travel together on this journey toward Christian maturity. Baptists have discovered that if you want the church to grow, and the gospel to spread, a small groups ministry is the key.
So, this begs the question: what should be the purpose of a small group ministry? Believe it or not, the purpose of a small groups ministry is the same as the church—to make and develop disciples of Christ by reflecting and living out the Great Commandment. Here is Luke 10:27: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” These two greatest commandments emphasize three areas that make a strong foundation to any church, small group, or individual Christian: spiritual growth, learning, and serving.
For these three things to happen, it is essential that you show up. Growth, learning, and serving don’t just happen by reading a book, or by accident, or by individual resolve and determination. These happen, and are carried out, in the context of Christian community.
From the very beginning, God called to himself a people; starting with one man and his family that God blessed into a great nation. Ever since Abraham, God has emphasized the community. God doesn’t want rouge individualism, that’s more of an American characteristic. God wants his people gathered as a community of faith; to worship, to live life, to share with and support, to encourage and lift up, to admonish and correct, all in the context of community. For a community to be a community, it is essential that we show up.
Consider the challenge of Hebrew 10:24, “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” THAT will not happen by accident. We need others to guide us on this journey. Left to ourselves, we will drift away, and eventually crash and burn. We cannot be an obedient Christian on our own.
Consider this homework assignment: do a word study on all the “one another” passages in the New Testament and see if any of them can be accomplished by staying at home, or even by sitting in a place like this, looking at the back of someone else’s head. It is said that Christianity is best living in circles, not rows. Rows will separate us and allow us to hide from one another, while circles invite everyone into participation.
Let’s get back to the Great Commandment and how small groups attendance is essential:
To love God with all our heart and soul is to love Him with passion, with priority, and with trust. We can’t go out into the world and work at our jobs, and deal with the family, and at the same time keep our passion for God without help.
Think about it, we can’t be bombarded by media, and ads, and strange noises in our car, and keep God first in our priorities. We can’t listen to the news, and to the politicians, and worry about paying our bills, while naturally keeping our trust in God.
We need to see the example of others and receive their encouragement. We need others who know us who can remind us how God has taken care of our needs in the past, so he will take care of us in the future. A small group can provide all of this in a way a large congregation can’t.
To love God with all our mind is to learn about Him through his Word, and to see the world from His perspective. The best preacher in the world is still limited by the fact that sermons have NO interaction.
With a small group, people can ask questions, give illustrations, even express doubts, and know that other people are listening. Loving God with our mind is taking biblical truths and applying them to our lives. While good preachers add application to their sermons, it’s also important to have a fellow believer who can look at our particular situation on a personal level and speak directly into our lives.
To love Him with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves are related. Small groups should be a place where we can freely “love our neighbor,” whether through prayer or meeting a physical need. Small groups also provide encouragement and a place of rest so members can love God with all their strength OUTSIDE the group. When members serve God as a group or as individuals, the small group can be a place to recharge and share how God is working in their lives.
God knows we are fragile and fallen creatures who need constant reminders of what we are supposed to do. Obedience tends to leak out of our buckets.
A small group is a key tool to help us stay focused. Regularly meeting with a committed group of believers allows us to reinforce the core of what we believe so we can live it out, learn more about God, and maintain the strength to serve others. Small groups are the best and most effective way to make and develop disciples of Christ.
King’s Grant Baptist is about building the Kingdom through making disciples, which means helping you to become a devoted follower of Jesus. Small groups are the key in your spiritual growth process. Here, I am going to share some positive benefits in becoming involved in a small group; yep, you actually get something out of being in a small group.
I am going to finish this message by helping us to better understand GROUPS…
G – Gain knowledge and Growth toward maturity.
Gain Knowledge – You will understand the Bible better in a community of faith.
Have you ever listened to a message from the Bible at a worship service and wanted to stop the speaker and say, “But what about?” or “I don’t understand!” If so, then a small group is for you. The message that is taught in our worship service is one-way communication. You listen while the speaker speaks. It’s fine for imparting knowledge, but not as effective for personal application as a small group. In a small group setting, you can ask questions, participate in a discussion of the text, and hear others share their insights and illustrations of the truth you are trying to grasp. The Bible must be applied to your own personal situations and that happens best in small groups.
Growth Toward Maturity – You will grow spiritually faster in a group than when you are alone.
We have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). Spiritual growth involves life change. Life change is optimized in the context of a small group. 2 Timothy 2:22 teaches that we are to “run after” godly character and “run away” from the passions of youth. This verse instructs us not to do this alone but “with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.” God wants us to stop “trying” and start “training.” It’s always easier to exercise physically or spiritually in a group than alone (1 Timothy 4:7b).
R – Relationships
Experiences – You will begin to really feel like part of God’s family.
We believe it is imperative that as a church grows larger, it should also grow smaller at the same time. It should be the desire of growing churches to provide a small group for everyone that wants to get connected. In a society that is increasingly mobile and where families are fragmented, small groups can provide a family atmosphere where no one needs to stand alone.
Encouragement – You will receive customized care.
Each member of a small group provides care for the other members of the group (1 Corinthians 12:25). The group leader oversees the pastoral care of the group through the sub-group leaders. The group, rather than church staff, becomes the first line of resources. This is accomplished as believers in the group see themselves as contributors and not just consumers, givers and not just attenders.
O – Opportunities.
Example – You will be a New Testament Christian.
The early church met as a large group for corporate worship at the temple and then as small groups from house to house (Acts 2:46; 5:42; 20:20; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). The New Testament is very clear about how God intended for His people to meet in small groups so they could experience authentic biblical community. The New Testament is also very clear to point out that these were communities with a purpose. They used these small groups to fulfill the Great Commission in a Great Commandment way. They weren’t an end in themselves.
Evangelism – You will have a natural way to share Christ with friends, neighbors, classmates, relatives, and co-workers.
It may be that some of your friends who don’t know the Lord wouldn’t be caught dead in a church. They have a preconceived idea and just the thought makes them defensive. But those same people may be open to an invitation to a casual Bible discussion in a home or office setting. In a small group, your unbelieving friend can ask questions and express honest doubts without feeling “put on the spot”. When your friend sees the love and warmth and honesty of your group, it will make him more receptive to the good news (John 13:35; Acts 5:42).
U – I’ll come back to this one at the end…
P – Prayer will become more meaningful to you.
Many people are hesitant to pray in front of others, especially in a large church. In a small group of 6-12, you will learn to participate in prayer by having a conversation together with God. No one is pressured to pray, but as you become comfortable, you’ll be able to pray sentence prayers and join in. There are many promises in the Bible related to group prayer. In praying together with a few others, we are drawn together, and we find answers to the needs in our lives (Matthew 18:19).
S – Support, Skills, and Service.
Support – You don’t have to go through struggles alone.
It’s not only possible but also probable that you could walk into and out of a large group event with hurts, heartaches, and soul-searching questions but never connect with someone that will show an interest in you or identify with your difficulty. In a small group setting the principle of “commonality” is often experienced. Many of us think our struggles are unique to us, but in a small group we find out that personal problems are universal. It’s exciting to find out that the members of your group have not only struggled with common problems but have found common solutions in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Skills – You will develop leadership skills in a small group.
Many people are scared of the word “leadership.” John Maxwell says, “Leadership is just influence.” Most believers would say without reservation that they want to influence their world for Christ. They would love to be used by God to lead someone to Christ and see that person grow up spiritually and reproduce himself. Acts 4:13 says “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” These men had obtained the confidence they needed to lead others to the Savior because they had been discipled in Jesus’ group. Discipleship ultimately produces leadership skills in you. One day you will be discipling a small group of believers.
Service – You’ll have a place to discover and use your spiritual gifts.
When people are born into their physical family, they are given natural talents, but when they are born into the family of God they are given spiritual gifts. These gifts are God-given abilities that enable believers to effectively serve one another. Attending a spiritual gift workshop and taking a gift assessment is a vital step in discovering your gift mix, but it is the members of your group that provide confirmation of your gift after watching you in action. People that have no arena in which to exercise their gifts struggle to identify them. A neighborhood group is a wonderful place to steward the gifts God has sovereignly given you (1 Peter 4:10, 11).
So, these past two weeks at King’s Grant have been about the importance of attendance @ Church. After all this time and teaching, perhaps you now see that your attendance in corporate worship (and some sort of small group) is way more than numbers on a spreadsheet. We are talking about the God’s people moving closer toward conforming to the image of Christ, growing into full maturity.
So, what is missing in the outline? Look at your notes. What blank is left out? U = YOU.
I suppose, there may be really just one question left to ask regarding attendance in a small group: “How are you doing with that?” Are you doing all you can to take advantage of spiritual growth opportunities? Or are you just happy to be where you are? Your staff can’t make you desire spiritual growth or maturity. We can’t make you practice hospitality. We can’t make you invite others into our community, faith, and love here at King’s Grant. I suppose it all comes back to another question, “Are you here because of what you get out of the community, or what you can give back to others?” THIS is the difference between being a consumer and being a contributor.
Are you ready to move toward something greater than where you find yourself right now? What will it take to get you out of a row and into a group? What are the barriers that prevent you from getting into a small group? What is holding you back? Are there fears? Issues of time? Not enough Bible knowledge to get into a group with those long-time believers?
Think of it this way, you don’t refuse to go to college because other people know more than you. That’s the whole point of college. You go there to learn new things, experience community, and grow toward proficiency in your profession. Is not your salvation the most important thing ever? Then why do we accept the lie that ignorance is bliss? The more you get involved, the more you realize you have a lifetime of learning ahead of you.
I see a barrier that one day, King’s Grant will have to address: space. We can’t get everyone into a Sunday School class, so, who in our classes is willing to say that space and seats will no longer limit the growth of King’s Grant Baptist Church? Would there ever be a time when half of the people in your class will say, “We are going to meet in homes, to free up space for our classes here on campus to reach people not yet connected”?
Who is ready to start something in your home, using the Life Group model, asking questions about the preacher’s message and text, then seeking to apply the Scripture to real life? THAT is community life. THAT is what Life Groups are about. Not a teacher, then don’t try to be one; allow the Holy Spirit to guide your group. When you run across something you don’t know how to answer, just say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Then come talk to me about it.
Attendance @Church – one of the Essentials in the Christian life. If you need to talk about how to get this part of your life straightened out, I’d love to talk with you about it.
May the Spirit of God move in your soul to take seriously the command to Love God and Love People in a community of faith.