What Is the True Purpose of Small Group Ministry?
By Ken Long
In a previous blog, I explored the interconnectedness of a small group ministry and biblical counseling was explored. In fact, in that blog I stated that for a church to have an effective small group ministry that body of believers should also have a biblical counseling ministry. In other words, don’t have a small group ministry without a biblical counseling ministry. To see the reasons, why this tie is so strongly stated, please see that blog.
What really is the purpose of a small group ministry? What is the purpose of the small group ministry at your church? Or if you do not have one as yet but are talking to God about starting one, what is that singular purpose that He has for your small group ministry? You had best start with a clear, singular purpose for the small group ministry. If the that is unstated or unclear, you can count on lots of confusion and a high turnover rate with your small group leaders.
Many Reasons Small Groups Exist
There are many reasons why small groups exist in a church—none of them bad, but a lot of them unclear and peripheral to what’s going on in the heart and soul of the church. Often the name attached to the ministry gives a clue to the reason for its existence, for example, Care Groups, Men’s Bible Study, Ladies’ Groups, and Growth Groups. Many churches looking for a way to meet the personal and physical needs of their people in a loving, decentralized manner will establish Care Groups. Others want their men to dig into the Bible so they have Men’s Bible Studies. Still others want to emphasize growth in numbers for the kingdom so they have Growth Groups modeled after the principles contained in Carl George’s book, Prepare Your Church for the Future.
What is the Churches’ Primary Ministry?
But careful and prayerful thought should be given to the purpose of the small group ministry of any church. Please do not just put some chairs in a circle and start one. A small group ministry should directly enhance the primary ministry of the church. So now you have to back up and answer this question, “What is the primary ministry of the church?” Do you know? It can be clearly seen in Ephesians 4:11-15)
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:11–15, NLT).
Ephesians 4:11-15 drives home the fact that God has given Spirit-gifted people, “pastors and teachers … to equip God’s people … (to) build the church, the body of Christ” (4: 11-12). So, the goal of building up His church is to have all of God’s people to “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (4:13). Or, stated another way, “growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (4: 15). In other words, “a” or possibly “the” primary purpose of the church, is for the whole church to participate with the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18) in the transformation of God’s people to be more like Christ.
The Purpose of Small Groups Should Match the Primary Ministry of the Church
So, if spiritual formation is the purpose of the church then personal transformation should intentionally be the purpose of the small group ministry. Bible study is great. Fellowship is wonderful. Evangelism is essential. But changing and growing to be more like Christ should be the purpose of the small group ministry. And believe it or not, you can focus on Bible study and still not arrive at personal transformation unless the leaders are trained and reminded to pursue that direction.
The way I have seen God use a small group ministry in transforming His people, is for the group to spend an intense time studying the Word of God, or a theological book based on the Scriptures, with an emphasis on applying the truth to each of our lives.
You say, “But aren’t most churches and small groups focused on this already?” I don’t think so. Check it out. Most Bible studies are focused on knowledge with possibly some private application considered. The bulk of the time is usually dominated by a mini-lecture from the small group leader, while participants dutifully ‘spank the blanks’ in their study guide or workbook. Occasionally the leader will ask some inductive questions about the text, but even then, the questions are often focused on facts rather than life application.
Please do not hear what is not being said. Certainly, Bible knowledge is not irrelevant; but it is not enough. Small groups are the place to push past Bible knowledge and on to life application, so that transformation more and more into the image of Christ can be seen in our churches. A transformational small group focuses on everyone giving and receiving hope and help from God’s Word so as to spiritually mature in Christ (compare Hebrews 10:24-25).
So the primary, singular purpose that I am proposing for a churches’ small group ministry is personal spiritual transformation. May God give each of us His wisdom on how this should look in each of our local bodies of Christ.