Philosophy Lite: Using small groups to grow churches
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One of the signs of the times has been a resurgence of home Bible study and fellowship groups. Small group meetings have always been a vital part of dynamic Christianity.
Since the first century times, as the apostles and disciples met together in homes, Christians have found the fellowship, strength and encouragement they needed to live triumphant Christian lives.
The depersonalizing effect of today's society is bringing about a new interest in community; some adventurous souls are actually joining Christian communes and sharing their possessions.
Others are finding their needs met simply by meeting and studying with others of a similar spiritual depth. There is a bond of love between committed Christians that the world does not know.
Small groups, where all the members participate as directly as possible, are more effective for changing attitudes and behavior than is the lecture method. This has been shown by "a whole series of studies," according to Paul Hore in the "Handbook of Small Group Studies."
The value of small groups has been shown worldwide: the Alpha Program Worldwide, is a program that focuses on the building of relationships in small groups, in homes and over meals, as a means of sharing the gospel.
It is also apparent in the remarkable success of the Group of Twelve approach in Colombia which has grown from 600 cell groups to something like 50,000 in four years. In Cuba, where new church construction is still forbidden, the Assemblies of God has grown from 9,000 to more than 100,000.
The Hosanna World Outreach Centre in Taita has been identified as the fastest growing church in New Zealand. It has grown from scratch to 500 members in five years. Their pastor, Joshua Avia, says, "We are a cell church where everybody does everything." They work on a cell principle of 12 members. And, it is no surprise that the largest church in the world, Dr. Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul, Korea, with several hundred thousand members, is built on the house and cell group principle.
At the Berlin Congress of Evangelism, Robert Raines called the small group approach "the strategy for our time." Eddie Gibbs, in "I Believe in Church Growth," says: "In all my 11 years of itinerant ministry I cannot recall any growing church which does not encourage small groups."
I'm sure there is a tendency for some groups to stray from their original contract and talk of daily events and politics. It is important that there be some sort of minimum leadership and that every member have a form outlining the ideals of such a meeting.
There is a value in sharing meals together; our church has a program called Six for Supper, in which three couples sign up to fellowship and share, and we have two groups that meet in homes.
There is no need to walk this pilgrim pathway alone. Try to find a serious group or association that is earnestly Christian in its outlook and one that can help you be the person you need to be.
Raymond F. Smith is president of Strong Families of Victoria.