Why Small Groups?

Beginning today, I'm going to be posting a few times a week summaries of chapters from books I've read over the past few years. These are the books that have really informed my thinking on discipleship and small groups. Hopefully, they'll provide a good opportunity for you to think through some of these same thoughts.

Today, I'm looking at chapter one from the book "Why Small Groups". This chapter is an essay written by C.J. Mahaney entitled, "Why Small Groups."

He begins by discussing the centrality of relationships in the Christian life. Early in the chapter, he quotes J.I. Packer on this topic.

J.I. Packer writes, "We should not think of our fellowship with other Christians as a spiritual luxury, an optional addition to the exercises of private devotions. Fellowship is one of the great words of the New Testament; it denotes something that is vital to a Christian's spiritual health, and central to the Church's true life... The church will flourish and Christians will be strong only when there is fellowship."

C.J. Mahaney adds, "Genuine fellowship isn't practical in a crowd of 200 or 2,000. That's why I feel so strongly that churches must create small groups where Christians can develop intimate relationships, where they can 'know and be known.' A church following a biblical model will not just 'have' small groups. It will not merely 'offer' small groups. Rather it will be built with small groups."

Mahaney lays out four Scriptural goals that should be accomplished in small groups. These goals are
  • Progressive Sanctification -- an ongoing work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. (in regards to Sanctification, Mahaney later says, "Small groups are not primarily intended for teaching and preaching; those functions are the responsibility of your pastor. Rather, small groups are designed for application.")
  • Mutual Care -- the practical outworking of our sacrificial love for each other which results in meeting one another's needs and carrying one another's burdens.
  • Fellowship -- participating in one another's lives because of the unifying bond we share in Jesus. This is more than just friendship or social activity, it is an active pursuit to see and be Jesus in the lives of other believers.
  • The Ministry of the Holy Spirit -- using the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit to enhance our fellowship together and to accomplish Jesus' mission together.
Mahaney closes his essay by writing, "This is why we are committed to small groups. By his grace, together we are being changed into the image of Jesus Christ through progressive sanctification. Together we are experiencing mutual care, genuine fellowship, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit... We no longer just attend -- we participate. We no longer selfishly consume -- instead we're carrying out God's purpose for our lives as we contribute to the building of the local church."

Use the following questions to think on this topic a little more. Discuss your thoughts with others, or give some answers in the comments on this blog:
  • What comes to mind when you hear the word "community"? How are the different ways this word is used?
  • How important are relationships in the spiritual development of a Christian?
  • How are these similar to and different from the words we use to describe LIFEGroups at Calvary (formative, caring, missional)?
  • What are some practical ways some of these things might be implemented in a LIFEGroup?