By Chris Surratt
The picture of the community we are called to establish with our groups is found in the first-century church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.
Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42–47)
You can see in this passage from Acts that the early church devoted themselves to God and each other through both corporate gatherings (the temple) and in the home (house to house).
You can also see an outline for what every small group should strive to achieve.
The text says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” In other words, they were learning what it means to be more like Christ through the apostles.
Creating disciples who then create disciples should always be the final goal of any small group. Jesus made this clear with His commission to His followers before He returned to heaven:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)
Therefore, we must always gather as a group, not just for the sake of gathering, but for the goal of helping people develop into mature believers. Note that Jesus did not say, “teaching them everything I have commanded you.” He said, “teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
Of course, we cannot observe what Jesus commanded unless we know what He commanded, but it needs to be clear that, though the study is important, the fruit of the study is what leads to fully devoted followers of Christ.
Discipleship is not a static process. It will always involve movement toward something. If you want to know if people in your group are developing in their faith, look for these two movements in their lives.
Movement toward Christ
The original disciples followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Where He was leading, they were following. Consequently, their lives were becoming more like Christ as they followed closer and closer.
The disciples in your group will begin to display more of the characteristics of Jesus as they move closer to Him.
Movement toward others
Someone who is being discipled will want to share what they are experiencing with others.
When Jesus changed the Samaritan woman’s life with a conversation at the well, she ran immediately to tell everyone she knew to “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29).
When your life has been changed by the gospel, you want to tell everyone.
The early church members “ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46–47).
Discipleship is a team sport. I have never enjoyed a meal as much when I am dining alone as when I am eating with a group of friends. Every small group meeting should include elements of building community and having fun. God did not create us to live in isolation.
You can see it modeled with the perfect relationship of the Trinity in Genesis:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
And then prayed for by Jesus with His final prayer before His death on the cross: “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.” (John 17:21)
Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed from all eternity in perfect community, God has created us in His image in order to live in biblical community. Our unity displays the oneness of God in the Trinity.
It’s important that what we gain through being discipled in community is not just left there. Jesus expects us to be out making a difference in every environment we find ourselves. He said:
You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)
Your small group should always look for opportunities to serve missionally in the community around you. Being on mission is not just a quarterly event, but a lifestyle attained by group members.
Our mandate as a fellowship of believers is to reach out beyond our walls to the people who need what we have. This is the essence of the gospel.
Our small group is the intersection of the gospel and real life. The good news of what Jesus Christ did for us needs to go beyond our group into the world.
CHRIS SURRATT (@ChrisSurratt) is a ministry consultant and coach with more than twenty years of experience. He served on church staffs prior to becoming the discipleship and small groups specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Leading Small Groups: How to Gather, Launch, Lead, and Multiply Your Small Group, from which this is excerpted and adapted with permission from B&H Publishing Group. You can follow his blog at ChrisSurratt.com.