If you have never had the experience, spare a thought for those who have had the experience.
First up is the possibility of complete non-attendance – except for the leader(s). Or worse still, the group of two. The two least connected people in the group – that usually has eight other members – trying to “go through the programme”. Then there’s the singing. Out of tune singing to an out of tune guitar.
And the person who talks too much. And the person who doesn’t want to talk. And the person who somehow manages to bring the antichrist or the abomination of desolation into every answer to every question. And the silences in the prayer time. And I could go on. And you could go on. Did I tell you about the time I asked someone if he would like to close in prayer and he just said “No”? I suppose he was at least being honest.
Small groups. House groups, home groups, cell groups, connect groups, interest groups – whatever you want to call them, they have the potential to be the most awkward, cringe worthy experience you can sign up for!
So why bother?
Let me give you three good reasons to bother.
Small groups give us the opportunity to give and receive encouragement. Notice I said give and receive encouragement.
We all need encouragement. 1 Thessalonians 5.11 says: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
We need encouragement because it builds us up. But encouragement is a two way street. Verses like the one just quoted create an expectation that church is not just where we receive encouragement but also where we give encouragement. You are supposed to be an encourager as well as one who is encouraged. Connect groups enable us to operate in giving mode as well as receiving mode.
Without small groups, a church will face an encouragement deficit
Secondly, small groups provide an opportunity for us to exercise spiritual gifts in a safe environment.
In 1 Corinthians 14.26 Paul paints a picture of what church can be like:
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
But how does that work, even in a smaller church of, say, twenty people? Everyone has something to share is what Paul is suggesting. Small groups are ideal for the level of participation that Paul sets out in this verse.
Finally, small groups enable us to ensure that we stay true to our calling and mission in the end times.
Hebrews 10.24-25 says:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
It is in the context of giving encouragement to and receiving encouragement from one another that we find the impetus to stick with the mission, even when there is difficulty and opposition.
Small groups are important. Not because they are another meeting to attend. They are important because they create the climate in which our faith and love can grow. I’m not sure we can’t really be church without them.