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Small Groups Philosophy in Disciple-Making Efforts

Introduction

Small groups form the basis for any interactions that occur not only in the church, but also in all other aspects of life. For instance, subtle interrelationships in homes and at the workplace offer individuals the necessary intimacy for them to build one another. The same dynamic applies to personal relationships in the church, especially in regards to the process of making disciples into disciple makers. Small groups are the basic compositions of any church and they also assume different forms and models. In some instances, the churches themselves are grouped into small groups that form the mother church. The constitution of any small group is members who have subtle or sometimes obvious differences. Every new convert in the church comes with specific qualities that resonate with that of other members. Consequently, in the spirit of discipleship new members often fit into groups that share similar salvation experiences, knowledge, and support. This essay explains the philosophy of small groups in relation to the disciple-making efforts. The paper also outlines the essence of mission groups to the body of Christ and specifies how these small missions relate to my personal experience.

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The Philosophy of Small Groups

The growth of the church should be inverted whereby the organization grows big and small at the time. For instance, the church should grow large through its outreach, but it should be smaller through its utilization of small groups. The building block for the early church was a small group that consisted of Jesus and his disciples. Atkinson and Comiskey outline the philosophy of the small groups in the early church as follows: “As the apostle proceeded to carry out the Great Commission, they utilized a two-fold approach of meeting in the temple courts for large group meetings and in the homes for small group meetings”1. The small groups are also evident through Paul’s correspondence with the regional churches, some of which met in private homes2. The small groups were the support system for the early church even in the era of persecution. Consequently, without these small groups it would have been difficult for the church to survive the early persecution.

Small groups are the basis for individual involvement in the task of disciple making. Individuals who are part of small groups can be able to maintain a connection to the church through various means. The only challenge for these small groups is to find the appropriate philosophy for establishing a balance between the dedication to small groups and the allegiance to the bigger organizations. The overall philosophy of small groups is to have “a group that is healthy and one that consists of people at various spiritual levels in respect to the same leadership nucleus”3.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s contribution on the philosophy of small groups is that these groups are part of the intricate system that is the church; “the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or even hearts, he needs actual living human beings who follow him”4. This phenomenon explains why the early disciples were called to follow Jesus not only ideologically but also physically. Furthermore, small groups serve as tools for encouraging, training, spiritually nourishing believers, and preparing them for the task of disciple making. Small groups also assist believers when they seek to spread the Good News to non-believers in an intimate environment. For instance, small groups are the embodiment of the body of Christ5.

The Importance of the Relational Group in Authentic Decision Making

Putnam points out that “the relational group forms the backbone for discipleship and the key is that the small group’s purpose if defined as encouraging discipleship…not primarily fellowship or even outreach”6. Nevertheless, it is important for the relevant organizations to define what entails a small group because if there is no solid definition, a group can lack purpose by transitioning constantly. All groups must start at the relational levels but they have to work towards achieving a sense of purpose.

The easiest way to achieve this is to align the small group’s vision and mission with that of the church that it is affiliated with by mimicking its model. Some of the existing literature on the subject of small groups and disciple making champions for the need for small groups to take up the ministry of Christ and lay the foundation for bigger groups. The first step towards achieving progress within a small group is by strengthening the relationships within the unit. This activity happens to be part of the greater disciple making endeavor and a fundamental principle in strengthening the body of Christ.

Another purpose of incorporating the small group in churches is to use this unit as a tool for stimulating spiritual development among disciples. Consequently, small groups are useful tools for connecting people relationally, providing support, encouraging them and fostering fellowship in a bid to promote the disciple making process7. Relational groups do not only connect people but they also encourage multiplication by nurturing new leaders and creating new groups. Excluding the relational group from the church setup only causes the church to stall in its disciple making activities. The small roles that are taken up by the relational groups help to stimulate growth in both quantity and quality. The regular communication within this group is also important to the spiritual growth of the church.

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Mission Groups and the Body of Christ

Christ provided a guideline to discipleship when he explained to them how they should function as a body: “I in them and you in me…then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me8. This statement indicates that it is important for relational groups to be a highlight of the society and represent Christ even among non-believers. Comiskey points out the importance of small groups to disciple making by noting that new believers might be hesitant to join a big church but they might find it easier to warm up to a small group first9.

It is easy for non-Christians to be attracted to the activities of a small group but this can only happen when these processions are well planned. In Matthew 22:9, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a well-planned feast, but the only random thing about it is its guests. Therefore, the missional groups must prepare the feast first before going out of their way to invite anyone that they can find. The body of Christ has to be advertised to the whole community and missional groups take up this role through their ‘lifestyle evangelism’. A mission group is also the product of a health body of Christ as it comes from an effective leader/pastor and disciples who have received good training and mentorship.

My Status in Regards to Living in a Community with Other Believers

My belief is that the ministry of Christ is a perpetual endeavor and the more success we have as disciples, the more work there is to be done. The dilemma of the bountiful harvest and the few workers continues to affect our ministry. However, it is up to the believers to stay focused on representing Christ on a positive light to the rest of the community. It is often a delight when a small group attracts potential disciples even from a distance. This is the most effective form of ministering because it is often wholesome in nature. The body of Christ has the potential to attract new believers through its simple portrayal of love, mercy, and grace. This is why all my activities within the community should be a type of evangelism. Bonhoeffer reiterates this sentiments when he says that “our human eyes see Jesus the human being; faith knows Him as the Son of God…our human eyes see Jesus in the flesh; faith knows him as bearing our flesh”10. Therefore, my faith in my ability to represent Christ in the community is eternal. In addition, my relationships with others are a vital tool for disciple making.

Conclusion

The philosophy of small groups is rooted in the ability of these units to foster strong relationships among their members. In addition, small groups are of importance to the welfare of the church, the wholeness of the body of Christ, and the disciple making process. These groups are an attraction for those non-believers who might be interested in discipleship on a small-scale basis. In my experience, representing the body of Christ in the community is the most effective form of evangelism there is.

Bibliography

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Atkinson, Harley, and Joel Comiskey. “Lessons From The Early House Church For Today’s Cell Groups.” Christian Education Journal 11, no. 1 (2014): 75-87.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003.

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Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.

Putman, Jim, Bobby William Harrington, and Robert Coleman. DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. London: Zondervan, 2013.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

Footnotes

  1. Harley Atkinson and Joel Comiskey, “Lessons From The Early House Church For Today’s Cell Groups,” Christian Education Journal 11, no. 1 (2014): 77.
  2. 1 Corinthians 16:1 (NIV).
  3. Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 56.
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 205.
  5. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is–: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 1054.
  6. Jim Putman, Bobby William Harrington, and Robert Coleman, DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (London: Zondervan, 2013), 25.
  7. Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 56.
  8. John 17:23 (NIV).
  9. Harley Atkinson and Joel Comiskey, “Lessons From The Early House Church For Today’s Cell Groups,” Christian Education Journal 11, no. 1 (2014): 77.
  10. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 210.
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StudyCorgi. (2020, December 31). Small Groups Philosophy in Disciple-Making Efforts. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/small-groups-philosophy-in-disciple-making-efforts/

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StudyCorgi. 2020. "Small Groups Philosophy in Disciple-Making Efforts." December 31, 2020. https://studycorgi.com/small-groups-philosophy-in-disciple-making-efforts/.

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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Small Groups Philosophy in Disciple-Making Efforts'. 31 December.

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