How to Make a Small Group that Actually Works


Small groups cannot do everything, but they can do a few things really well. Don’t just put some chairs in a circle and invite people over. A small group ministry should directly align with the larger ministry of the church.

If spiritual formation is the purpose of the church, then personal transformation in community with other believers is the purpose of small group ministry. Bible study is great. Fellowship is wonderful. Evangelism is essential. But changing and growing to be more like Christ is the purpose of a small group ministry. People do not drift naturally toward transformation; they retreat toward information. That’s why you can attend a Bible study and still not experience transformation. Retaining information is “safe” — less intrusive and not as messy.

What Happens In Your Small Groups?

We have seen God use small group ministry to transform His people as the group spends time applying the Word of God to each member’s life. Sometimes this can also be a theological book based on the Scriptures. Some of you might say, “But aren’t most churches and small groups focused on this already?”

We don’t think so. Most Bible studies are really focused on acquiring knowledge with limited, and often private, application.

To be clear, Bible knowledge is never irrelevant. It’s just not enough. Small groups are the place to push past Bible knowledge and on to life application, so that transformation more and more into the image of Christ can be seen in our churches. A transformational small group focuses on everyone giving and receiving hope and help from God’s Word so as to spiritually mature in Christ (Heb. 10:24 – 25).

So a transformational group is focused on asking questions with spiritual formation in mind. Take, for instance, a small group discussion of the first chapter in the book of James. The text should prompt the leader to press each member of the group, perhaps to consider a personal trial in their own life and to humbly share that with the others. The goal is to spark a spiritual discussion that moves below the surface of “Hey, how ya’ doin’?” The leader might ask their group, “Looking at verse 2, what difficulty or trial are you personally facing right now in your own life?” After listening to people share, a follow-up question might be, “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, what is your joy quotient right now as you persevere through this God-given trial?”

The small group leader, through a series of questions, is providing fertile ground for each person to examine their own attitude of submission to God’s Word in their life, which is indicated by their current level of joy in the midst of the trial. One desired result of this kind of transformational discussion is that it would naturally lead into a meaningful time of prayer for each other. Too often prayer times are focused on minor surgeries and the problems of other people outside of the group that they have never met. Prayer for one another should be asking for the Spirit to help us “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24 NIV).

Helping each member of the group move toward greater submission to God during a trial is the transformational result for which the small group leader is aiming. God has commanded us to be joyful in our trials (James 1:2). So how are we doing? We’re not joyful that we have cancer. But we can be joyful that in this horrendous trial our Father’s steadfast love, which endures forever (Ps. 100:5), will use even this circumstance for His glory and our good. For God’s good work to be made complete in us, we have to “count it all joy” when we “meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). In other words, the passage is teaching us to not waste our trials, but to be good stewards of them. Our people need more than just help in understanding this. They need help doing it and living it out. And that’s where the small group ministry should focus.

In a small group setting, others can see areas where we need wisdom and prayer (James 1:5). So the small group becomes a greenhouse or incubator for spiritual growth, as we spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24 – 25), giving hope and help to keep moving forward, by God’s grace. But this is all hinged upon allowing others to speak into our lives.

— by Brad Bigney and Ken Long, adapted from their contribution to Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care through God’s People (Bob Kellemen, General Editor; Kevin Carson, Managing Editor)

How to Use This Book

Biblical Counseling and the Church will help you take the next step: to go beyond simply having a biblical counseling ministry in your church … to becoming a church of biblical counseling, full of “one-another” ministry. This book is loaded with practical guidance, including how to navigate the relationship between biblical counseling, church discipline, and conflict resolution. Biblical Counseling and the Church is part of the Biblical Counseling Coalition series.

9780310520627

Biblical Counseling and the Church

God’s Care Through God’s People

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