by Bruce Raley
New. Groups. Both of those words are powerful. Both have incredible impact on churches today.
New. There’s something special about new things. A new car. New clothes. New job. New year. The new often creates a sense of excitement and enthusiasm. The new factor also can have a powerful impact in churches. New churches often grow faster than established ones. New worship services can reach more people. New groups have great potential for connecting more people and challenging them to mature in their faith.
Groups. Transformational Groups, a new book by Eric Geiger and Ed Stetzer provides insight into the power of groups within the ministry of the church. Research shows discipleship takes place best in the context of relationships. And relationships are more likely to be developed in smaller groups. In fact, groups are essential to effective discipleship.
New groups give great hope for church leaders.
Every church leader should be intentional about starting new groups. New groups not only have the potential to reach more people for Bible study and life transformation, but they also have other incredible benefits.
New groups maintain more of an outward focus, rather than an inward focus.
It is often difficult for new people to break into groups that have been together for a couple of years. In a group, members get to know and love each other. That can inadvertently lead to the group becoming closed to newcomers.
New people often find it easier to connect with a new group, where everyone is forming new relationships. New groups are actively seeking to include new people in the group.
New groups are more likely to be evangelistically effective.
Churches are now surrounded with second- and third-generation unchurched neighbors. These second- and third-generation unchurched are not anti-church; they are apathetic-church. They simply don’t know much about church or the Bible.
It wasn’t too many years ago that a church had the ability to attract unchurched people through events, programming, and other attractional methods of evangelism. If a certain type of music was sung, technology embraced, functional facilities built, then some of the unchurched would be attracted.
Today, it’s less common for the unchurched to be drawn to a church’s “come and see” invitation. Instead, credibility and relationships are becoming more important.
When people who don’t know God yet are welcomed into a small group of people with the Bible at the center of the group’s life, it creates a great environment for evangelism. Romans 10:17 says: “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” The principle is simple. When Christians develop relationships with others, it provides the credibility to share the Word of God. And when the gospel is shared, many of those people enter into a relationship with Jesus.
New groups provide opportunities for more people to be engaged in ministry.
Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 12:7 that every believer receives some type of spiritual gift to be used for the benefit of the kingdom. He also reminded the believers in Ephesus that God calls different leaders to fulfill different roles so the local church body can be built up (see Ephesians 4:11).
Both passages imply that all Christians are called to be engaged in ministry. The Lord blesses every Christian with some spiritual gift for ministry and places them in a church with leaders to equip them for that ministry.
Clearly, a variety of gifts and people are needed to fulfill the diverse needs within a church. There also must be a place for those gifts to be exercised within the church. Where can a person with the gift of teaching exercise that gift? What about a person with the gift of service?
While other ministries can benefit from people with these gifts, a Bible study group is a great place for people to engage in ministry through their giftedness while doing so in community with other believers.
Each new group provides additional opportunities for people to be engaged in ministry.
Yes, there is power in new. And, yes, groups are essential to the effectiveness of churches. But there can be even more power and effectiveness in new groups.
Bruce Raley is director of church education ministry at Lifeway.