Thursday night. Bibles open. Six men from the local church pray together. One reads Psalm 31 and applies it to his brother. A strong sense of God-dependence fills the room.
Sunday after lunch. The church is quiet after a busy morning. Kids play in the next room, while five couples gather to discuss the sermon. They hunger and thirst together for God’s truth.
Small group. Home group. Life group. Missional community. Whatever you call the gathering of an intimate number of believers outside of corporate worship, the goal is the same: fellowship and encouragement around God’s Word.
Yet we can easily miss the mark. Despite our best intentions, we often get sidetracked and forget the reason we’ve gathered. Sometimes we’d rather pursue what’s easier and more comfortable, but this approach lacks transforming power to draw us nearer to God and each other.
Small group has a goal, and we’d do well not to miss it. Here are eight ways we often miss the point of small groups.
1. Make the Bible optional.
Consider the Bible an accessory to small group, but not the focus—as one way to get help and feel better about life, but not as life itself. Instead of treasuring the Bible as God’s voice, reduce it to some helpful sayings and instructions. Rather than revering it as the core of your gathering, only reference it if there’s extra time or if someone has a question about it.
2. Turn it into a social club.
If worship services are for reading the Bible and hearing it preached, then shouldn’t small group be used for something else, like deepening relationships and cultivating common interests? Focus your group solely on forming friendships and building community, rather than fostering both from a focus on the living and active Word of God.
3. Exclude people.
Don’t open the group to new or difficult people. New people can start another group if they want, but yours has established trust and is comfortable the way it is. Don’t acknowledge the benefits of multiplication, only the negatives of “splitting” if the group gets too big. Also, be sure to exclude difficult people with well-known needs that can feel burdensome.
4. Prioritize it over church.
Don’t regularly attend church on Sundays; just go to small group. After all, isn’t the church wherever Christians are gathered? Rather than sitting under the God-given preaching of pastors, singing with a congregation, participating in baptism and communion, and serving the body through your gifts, prioritize small group. Make it an end in itself—not a means to a greater, eternal end.
5. Don’t pray.
As a group, talk about prayer, or wanting to pray, but don’t actually pray. Spend time chatting and catching up, even sharing prayer requests. But don’t get to the praying part. If you do, rush through it at the end of group time—but don’t learn from this problem. Keep the same pattern every week.
6. Don’t share honestly.
Update each other about life, but don’t let the sharing get too messy. Avoid talk of doubts and struggles—especially confession of sin or anything that could make someone look weak in front of the group. Share . . . but don’t share too much. Not at the expense of reputation or people’s comfort.
7. Don’t see each other outside group time.
Small group is great for a midweek relational pick-me-up. But spending time together outside of this? Come on, people are too busy. Work, sports, family, friends, and endless other commitments snatch all the extra. Besides, isn’t “doing life together” easier said than done? Better to avoid it; it’s easier to stick to our schedules.
8. Leave when it gets hard.
When your small group encounters the weight of people’s sin, the disappointment of missed expectations, and the challenges of growth, don’t bear with one another in patient love. Just leave. Find a new group that better fits your needs.
I confess the above statements are a bit tongue-in-cheek. We may be reluctant to admit we’ve had thoughts like these. But they’re all ways I’ve heard believers talk about the purpose and practice of small groups. If any of the statements resonate with your mindset or experience, take heart; I’ve also missed the point, as have many other brothers and sisters.
Praise God, there’s more to small group than meets the eye. As extensions and microcosms of the church, our intimate gatherings outside worship services enable us to work out the gospel together. We root ourselves in God’s Word as a congregation during worship; then we see that Word go to work in people’s hearts and circumstances through life together in small group settings (Col. 3:16). The Father intends our small groups to increasingly rely on his Spirit and point us to his Son, through immersion in his Word. He intends to mold and shape us according to this Word as he completes the work he started in Christ Jesus.
Praise God that even when we sometimes miss the point, we don’t miss his grace. He actively pursues us, offering us more in our relationships with one another. Our salvation motivates us to stay on point and pursue Christ—because that’s what we’ll be doing forever, together.
- 3 Reasons Your Small Group Is Not the Church (Sam Allberry)
Editors’ note: This article appeared at Unlocking the Bible.