Recently, Australia's Reverend Dr Rowland Croucher the Pastor's Pastor of John Mark Ministries sent out a discussion paper on Small Groups, asking, What small groups look like?
He initiated this discussion paper by stating that Christians have always met in small groups — and noted that the great evangelical period of the 17th century was demonstrably illustrated with the church growth phenomena of the period through such leaders like Jesus and John Wesley who built their ministries/movements around them.
Even a cursery reading of the New Testament illustrates that the small group movement by which many of the early churches began has remarkable tenacity and strength within it.
Dr Croucher defined a small groups as — where Christians study, share, pray, and 'mission' together come in many sizes and formats.
He makes the point that it's unlikely that a Pentecostal who 'prays in the Spirit' for half an hour will be excited by a Progressive Christians' group-discussion on prayer where they don't pray at all, at least in the accepted sense of the word.
Further, he noted that evangelicals want more Bible Study; and radical Christians more soso on with the various movements within Christendom.
Dr Croucher pointed out that small groups allow for more intimacy, involvement, and accountability, than attendance at formal church services.
"In our John Mark Ministries' seminars on Small Groups, we opine that, except for unusual factors, 70%+ of regular 'worshippers' ought to be in a small group that meets at least fortnightly to participate in intentional personal/group/spiritual growth exercises," he extolled.
What happens in small groups?
Dr Croucher notes the following:
 First, some contemplative silence, centering-down, 'gathering words' etc. Maybe, as God's people have done for millennia, singing in worship/praise together.
 We listen to the Word of God, from a teacher/facilitator/discussion leader — Bible study, exposition of an idea, book-summary about some aspect of being a Christian in our world…
 We respond by listening to one another – our joys, sorrows, family issues, work-related problems, personal struggles etc. — in a confidential context.
 We pray together: encouraging empathetic intercession for one another: maybe in smaller sub-groups of three or four. Those who find it difficult to pray aloud in a group can mention ideas, or read a prayer etc. And we commit to praying for one another regularly between meetings…
 Because we follow Jesus we involve ourselves in mission: serving the lost/last/least in a ministry-project (in our neighbourhood, overseas via a microfinancing agency etc.). A good book on all this: Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (see jmm.aaa.net.au).
Dr Croucher then provided the following resource information - More on the theory/practice of small groups:
- Small groups and 'belonging'
- Discussion Starters
- What does a healthy church – of any size – look like?
- Praying together
jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9669.ht (small groups and community)
- What does the church of the future look like?
1988 Olympics — Seoul, Korea
Likewise Australia's Olympic Chaplain Reverend Dr Mark Tronson (2009 Olympic Ministry Medal) explained that he had the opportunity while in Seoul, Korea for the 1988 Olympics to visit Dr Paul Yongi Cho's Church, at that time with 250,000 members.
This church was established on the small group principle and is sustained in good measure with practical and functioning ministry through the practical ministries that small groups provide.
In an interview on the History of Christianity television series led by Oxford's Dr Diarmaid MacCulloch (BBC Production 2010), Dr Paul Yongi Cho was asked about the growth and sustainability of the congregation. What was interesting was how he described the benefits of following Jesus and how that worked itself through within the small group structure.
Each small group became a microcosm of the church community in that there is encouragement to re-set the individual / family's finances. Koreans love to smoke and gamble he noted, and the small group leadership philosophy is to illustrate the savings methodologies for household finances by focusing on the things of Christ.
This one 'daily and fundamental' re-focusing brought about astonishing results from the micro (individual/family) to the macro (the church's finances). It is not by any means 'prosperity theology' rather a Biblical injunction to ensure providential care of one's income for the Glory of God.
The members of the congregation over a period of time, had more money in their pockets, they had more disposable income to direct either to the wider church community or for their own needs such as buying a car, a house, furniture, money in the bank. It changed people's lives, it put shoes on the feet of their children, it turned the entire church community.
Dr Yongi Cho put this down to the benefit of the small group philosophy which was developed in his church and which many other Korean churches have followed with similar results.
In my view, Small Groups give the closeness of a tight community, giving us a chance to learn about Christendom in an intimate way.
Small Groups also help us live out God's Word. After all, Hebrews chapter 10, verses 24-25 says "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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."
First published May 28, 2013
Lehi Duncan is a youth worker at Zeal Youth Centre in Wellington, NZ, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He loves painting, writing bad poetry, and doing life in the company of people with big hearts.
Lehi Duncan's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/lehi-duncan.html