Last year I read a book by Chuck Swindoll called, The Church Awakening. It is a great read and I will one day write about many of those insights. Acts chapter two is the platform for a lot of what we understand about the first church. Today I’m thinking about small groups in the church, so here are seven marks of a healthy small group, based on Acts 2:42-47.
1. Healthy Small Groups Study the Bible: Small groups in the New Testament studied the Bible together. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …” Of course, we know the teaching of the apostles is what we call the New Testament today. They lived in an oral culture but they were still studying lessons from the apostles.
I have recently discussed with Skip the possibility of publishing Talking Points or Points to Ponder to further get into the Bible. These pages can be distributed, printed out and used by small groups during the week. These will include questions related to the Scriptures and sermon they heard on Sunday with additional verses to consider.
The idea is for people to focus on one Bible truth at a time. People can handle only so many new truth units each week (like a truth from the sermon, one from the Sunday School lesson, one from a devotional). Too often we teach too much. If someone goes to church whenever the doors are open, they can end up with perhaps a dozen different Bible truths. You may be thinking, “My life can’t change that much” so let me focus on a truth that supports the largest church activity, worship.
2. Healthy Small Groups Share Life Together: The book of Acts says the early believers were devoted to fellowship (Acts 2:42), which means they were serious about their friendships. Notice the Bible says they were devoted to the fellowship, not just to fellowship. In other words, fellowship is not just something the church does; we are the fellowship.
Jesus calls us to be committed to one another (I’ll post something about all the “one another” verses at a later date). It is through small groups that we learn the skills of relationship. Small groups are laboratories of love, where we learn to obey the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
3. Healthy Small Groups Remember Jesus Together: The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The “breaking of bread” in this passage specifically refers to the Lord’s Supper or Communion. In the early Church, they did not take Communion in a large worship setting. They served it in small groups. Communion is only for believers, so a small group setting helps make sure only believers will take part.
4. Healthy Small Groups Pray Together: The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42). Jesus taught that there is a power to prayers spoken aloud for each other, and he made an incredible promise about small groups of believers: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). In the intimacy and confidentiality of small groups, we can pray for each other as we share our hurts, reveal our feelings, confess our failures, disclose our doubts, admit our fears, acknowledge our weaknesses, and ask for help.
5. Healthy Small Groups are Generous: The Bible says these small groups gave “to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45). Small groups allow us to help each other with practical needs. Can I loan you a car? Can I provide you with some meals when you are sick? We tend to centralize ministries, creating a food pantry or a counseling center, but this wasn’t the New Testament model. The early Church had decentralized ministries, getting the help directly to where the needs are.
6. Healthy Small Groups Worship Together: The Bible says the New Testament small groups worshiped together, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47). We need to worship God more than once a week, and small groups offer an opportunity to worship together.
7. Healthy small groups witness together: As these small groups met together, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). They were inviting others to join them. One of the proofs of a healthy small group is that it reproduces for two reasons: so a small group may add members, and so a small group may also birth (or help start) another small group.
Small groups can be creative in outreach. Rick Warren tells of a story where one small group pooled their money and bought season tickets for the San Diego Chargers (for everyone in the group, but they also bought some extra tickets). They go together to each game, but they also use the extra tickets to invite others to come with the group. They don’t start a Bible study at the game; they just have fun, but that allows them to say, “This same group meets on Tuesday nights for Bible study. Would you like to join us?”
At King’s Grant we have no rooms to start new classes, so we are now forced to get creative. I can’t wait to see where God will lead us as we get back to the basics of small groups meeting outside of our 9:45 Sunday School hour.