Small groups, life groups, cell groups, Bible studies—whatever you wish to call them—are an important part of many churches. Some churches wrap their entire identity and infrastructure around their small groups ministry. Others depend on small groups for growth. There is a growing trend that even uses an expanded small group model as a church-planting tool. But, what should be the purpose of a small group ministry? The same as the church—to make and develop disciples of Christ by reflecting 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.’” The two greatest commandments highlight three areas that make a strong foundation to any church, small group, or individual Christian: spiritual growth, learning, and serving.
To love God with all our heart and soul is to love Him with passion, priority, and trust. We cannot go out into the world and work at our jobs and deal with family and keep our passion for God at the same time without help. Similarly, we cannot be bombarded by media and ads and strange noises in our car and keep God first in our priorities. And we cannot listen to the news and the politicians and worry about bills while naturally keeping our trust in God. We need to see the example of others and receive their encouragement. And we need others who know us who can remind us how God has taken care of our needs in the past. 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 and to see the world through His point of view. The best preacher in the world is still limited by the fact that sermons have no interaction. With a small group, people can question, give illustrations, even doubt, and know others are listening. Loving God with our mind is taking biblical truths and relating them to our lives. While good preachers add application to their theological discourses, it’s also important to have a fellow believer who can look through our particular situation on a personal level and know which of God’s principles directly relate.
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. But small groups also provide encouragement and a place of rest so members can love God with all their strength outside the group. Whether the group is formed around a ministry team or the members serve God in individual ways, the small group can be a place to recharge and share how God is working.
God knows we are fragile creatures who need constant reminders of what we are supposed to do. A small group is a key tool to help with this. 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. Churches shouldn’t have small groups to gather more people or follow the next big trend. They should have small groups when and if they are the best way to make and develop disciples of Christ.