Small Groups

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Robbie Schmidtberger

Puritan Board Freshman
Questions for those who have small groups in their home church.

My home church is undergoing some major "renovations." My wife and I attend an OPC congregation that recently voted "yes" to merge with a PCA congregation just 4 miles away. One of those renovations, or changes, is the inclusion of small groups that will be held every 4th Sunday evening (we call them home groups) and I want to know your thoughts on a few questions. An elder will oversee the group and will teach it, or the session will approve, the teachers.

1.) Does the Regulative Principle still apply?

2.) Are small groups an extension of the congregation (are small groups still church), or are they instead evangelistically focused?

3.) Do people have a choice in what small group/community group to go to? For example my congregation has a young adults group. Historically, before the merger, the young adults all went to a home group together at times bypassing another to get there. Thoughts? (I go to Young Adults for fellowship with peers, but home groups are a time for multigenerational fellowship.)

PS. I am sure other questions will come up, but that is the first barrage.
 

BJClark

Puritan Board Doctor
Robbie Schmidtberger;

Our church has many small groups in which to choose from, we aren't told which one we have to go to, and they teach various subjects, so if your interested in one topic of study and not another you can go to that small group.

And you don't have to stay in the same small group at the end of the study, if another group is teaching something your interested in, you can move to that group. We also have a Young Adults Group (18 to 25) and they meet on a night that fits with their schedule.

Our small groups meet weekly, not monthly, and they don't all meet on the same night of the week, like not all small groups meet on Sunday Nights, some meet Monday, others Tuesday, it all depends on those in the group and what works for their work/family schedule.

Ours have those trained to teach, teach, they answer to the Session and the lessons are Session approved.

Most of the small groups are fellowship focused, with some everyone brings something for dinner (one bringing the main course, others bringing side dishes), they have dinner and fellowship then start the study, while others have the study then have a dessert and fellowship more at that time.

not sure if this answers your questions, but I hope it's helpful..
 

jonmo

Puritan Board Freshman
1. I’m not smart enough to give you a decent answer on this but I’ll give you some colour on your other two questions based on my experience with fellowship groups in the PCA (and elsewhere). This might differ drastically from what you have in store. I’ve had two very different experiences – one at Redeemer PCA, Manhattan (where the group was my spiritual life blood) and one at an evangelical Anglican church in London (where it was tedious and dry).

2. I was in a fellowship group for several years at Redeemer in Manhattan and the focus of our group (and I think the vast majority of groups there) would probably fall under your term “extension of the congregation”, as opposed to primarily externally-facing evangelism. We studied passages such as 1 John and Galatians with Redeemer-prepared study materials that, while they were largely focused on the Redeemer vision as a missional church, were tremendous for growth, even though most of our group were mature Christians (although we had one very smart and inquisitive seeker in there who kept us on our toes). Redeemer has over 5,000 attendees on a Sunday so the fellowship groups were of massive importance (and leadership focus) in terms of building community. They tended to be about 10-15 people meeting once a week at someone’s home with one or two group leaders. The focus was more on a community group (eg, building accountability, providing encouragement) as opposed to just a Bible study so there was plenty of time for prayer and community building as well. Redeemer has a training manual (available for a fee online) that might be worth getting hold of.

3. I think that would depend on the specific church. There was some choice at Redeemer (you get that with 150+ fellowship groups!) - typically you contacted the full-time fellowship group coordinator and provided her with some details (eg, looking for a group that met on the Upper East Side on Friday evenings, mainly singles) and she would provide a couple of such groups that still had capacity so you could go along and “check them out.” With a church that size you ended up with some very specific groups (eg, a friend of mine led a group that was solely comprised of single Korean-American men in their 20s who worked on Wall Street) but you also had some more “lucky dip” groups like the one I led (we had 15 people of various ages, races, social backgrounds, none of whom really knew each other beforehand – the only common factor was that we couldn’t meet during the week because of work schedules so met on a Sunday afternoon. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have put this “mix” together if I was trying to form a group that I (in human terms) would have thought would “work” but God worked amazingly in that group through difficult times (especially post 9/11).

Many years ago, I attended a small, theologically sound Anglican church in London where I was part of a Bible study. In that case, the minister allocated those who were interested (or he thought should have been interested) to three groups of about 10-12 people (we only had enough adults to form three groups). I knew (and liked) everyone in the group but it was a largely barren experience. The materials were dry (lacked application) and there was limited time for community building – ie, it was really just a Bible study where we ticked the box on some questions. Each year, the minister reallocated people (roughly based on geographic location) so it was difficult to get continuity of community.

Okay, that was all very long-winded but I think the bottom line is that there probably isn’t a hard and fast structure for these groups, although individual churches/pastors may have their own model. In my own limited personal experience, I have found a broader community-building group to provide more growth than the pure Bible study but others may have had a very different experience.
 

Grace Alone

Puritan Board Senior
Our small groups were always a ministry of the chuch for members and regular attendees of the church. They were bible studies that included occasional fellowship activites at the discretion of the particular group. I think it is an outstanding way to get to know others more intimately. We always had the choice of what group we wanted to attend, although there needs to be a cut off number for each group or else they may not remain "small" groups. I think it is good to have women's, men's, couples, singles, and any other kind of group. We never really labelled ours that way (other than women's and men's studies) because our church was small. There was a mix of ages, generally, but I can see in a larger church that there might be more of a tendency for people with similar age and interests to want to get to know one another better.

I am not sure that once a month will be very beneficial, though. I think weekly or twice a month gives more continuity and benefit.
 

Robbie Schmidtberger

Puritan Board Freshman
Agreeing with Philip Ryken, "It is in the church, where we learn that we need other people." I think two of the best books written on this subject, the necessity of friends and companions, are Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making - both by Paul David Tripp.

I agree with Janis that just once a month is not good for accountability and intimate fellowship. I think of the morning and evening worship service and while fellowship happens there, that is not the primary purpose - to worship God. Small groups focus, I think, not on worshipping God, but on intimacy, fellowship, and accountability.

What strikes me, though, is the reality that for the first 200-300 years Christians met in homes, and later graveyards (catacombs). I do believe that the early church followed a very simple worship service - definitely did not have electricity to amp up the volume for their PA system. The early church was much more organic and natural than it is today, nor did it presuppose a special place in culture. Quite the contrary it expected persecution and minimalization. I think small groups, with a missional focus, is a step in recovering the biblical church.
 
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