I know I talk a great deal about small groups but it is one of those things that I believe in and have a passion to share. Last weekend, as usual, we had a house full of fun and interesting guests. A number of those friends are active small group leaders or are interested in becoming leaders.
Having worked with our groups for a number of years I thought I would share a few ideas to help anyone contemplating forming a small group of their own. If I could give one, and only one piece of advice, it would be to make sure your group is a safe place for people to share what is on their hearts. When people open up about something that is deeply bothering them—listen. We don’t have to have all the answers and in many cases we won’t even have an answer. Just listen, and then listen some more, and then listen some more. Somewhere in the words of the person pouring out their heart you will hear the need and the Spirit will convict your heart to the compassion needed to help.
When I say the most important thing is to have a safe environment for people to share I am not for a moment insinuating that prayer is secondary. I simply take it for granted that prayer is the key, the glue that sticks the Bible study or small group together. Not only pray for each other at group but pray throughout the week for the success of the small group. Take seriously your commitment to seek God’s leading within the group.
Another important aspect of small group Bible study is to take the information and develop it so that it can become applicable to life. It is one thing to have head knowledge about God, but a totally different relationship when we experience God working in our life. The reason it took our groups over two years to work our way through the Gospel of John (true it is long) was because we were constantly seeking the application of what we were learning with the practicality of our daily living.
Now the big question pops up, how do you find people to come to your home group? Once again it is the hand of the Holy Spirit working with the hearts of faithful and dedicated Christians who long for their small group to grow and have an impact, not only on the members, but the entire community. In short ask—ask people to attend. The worse that can happen is for them to say no.
In the case of the Bible study group that meets in my house it happened this way. One early morning I was awakened by the Holy Spirit with a strong feeling that I was to start a study group in our town. That was all fine and dandy, but, I only knew one Christian couple in the entire town. How were we to start? With that on my mind I walked downtown to retrieve the mail. As I walked by one of the buildings a man came through the door and asked, “Are you Ladd Dunfield?” I answered that I was. He went on to tell me that he read this blog and enjoyed it. I thanked him and was about to continue my journey to the post office when he said, “do you want to start a Bible study group?” Remember, at the time I didn’t know this gentleman, and here he was saying we should start a Bible study group.
I made a new friend over the weekend. Hok and his wife Rachael conduct a Friday evening Bible study group for Chinese speaking people who are new to the country. Because they conduct the study mainly in English people attend to help with their English comprehension skills. At the same time they are learning the language they are also learning the Bible. Another friend told me this past weekend that he was thinking of starting a group with three other couples who were all drifting away from regular church services. A small group would be absolutely perfect for them as they transition into a new Christian experience.
The biggest drawback I hear from people is “I don’t have the knowledge to lead a group.” My response to that is simply “sure you do.” Pick a topic or book of the Bible, buy a few good commentaries, do your study and prep and then go for it. Who cares if you stumble, make mistakes here and there, or can’t answer some of the questions people ask. The leader of the group should be learning as well. I know in the groups I’m involved in over and over people raise questions or add to the discussion information and thoughts that cause me to reconsider my preconceptions of how I interpret a verse. I can honestly say, I have learned as much, if not more, from the groups than I’ve taught.
Remember, don’t be afraid and most importantly remember that the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding because you are studying about the grace of God. Talking about the grace of God—always keep this foremost in the study group. There are people who would love to drag you down the rabbit holes of controversy or want to expound their favorite pet view of the Bible. Don’t let these people divide the group. You will soon learn who is there to preach their own view and who is there to grow. If after talking to the person about the inappropriateness of what they are doing, if they persist ask them to leave the group. You are there to grow in Christ and not to debate someone’s favorite interpretation of Daniel 9.
And finally the key to all success in small group is to allow the Spirit to give you love for each other. It is amazing how in our groups we come from different backgrounds and churches yet we have found a bond that keeps us together all these years. I believe we truly love each other and this, of course, is the basis of the Gospel.
Last evening as I began work on this post I began to think back to a group I was part of over twenty years ago. We met in my friend Tim’s house and as I sat back thinking about the Bible study I could picture all these great friends and even picture where they sat in the room. And even though a number of people, who were in the group, (it was a big, small group) I haven’t seen for many years, the friendships built there are still precious to me.
I believe that small groups meeting in homes are going to transform our communities and be key in building disciples. So, if you’ve never led a small group now’s the time. If you need help just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do all I can to help.