Expanding Christian Community
Small Groups Make a Big Difference
to a Pastor
As your senior pastor it is my responsibility to see to it that your pastoral needs are met. As I reviewed that task this week, I noted that there are about 150 families who are looking to Calvary for their spiritual guidance. In total there are about 500 people who look to us for ministry. Some of these are not here every Sunday; but if there were a crisis in their lives, they would come to us for help. I expect that there are another 150 families or another 500 people living in our community who would become part of this church if they received a warm invitation.
We all need the Lord. In our opening song Ron sang movingly about that need, "People Need the Lord!" We need the Lord physically. In the last months people have had strokes, open heart surgery, back surgery, and a variety of other difficulties. There are about 25 people in this church who have suffered or are suffering from cancer. Just as blind and lame people in biblical times needed the Lord for physical reasons, we need the Lord today to heal our bodies and comfort us in time of distress.
We need the Lord relationally. People all around us are alone. There are people whose relationships are broken. Relationships at home, at school, or at work are not going well. They are hurting. Just as widowed, lonely and outcast people in biblical times needed the Lord for relational reasons, we need the Lord today to give us a sense of family.
We need the Lord spiritually. There are people both in our church and in our community who are spiritually dry. They feel neither loved nor joyful. Just as spiritually hungry people in Bible times needed the Lord for spiritual reasons, we need the Lord today to give us salvation and a sense of hope.
When I surveyed all of these needs, I felt overwhelmed. How are we to meet all of these needs?
We can meet them through listening. When we have needs, we need someone who will listen. One of the greatest joys in life is talking to a good listener. There is awesome power in the listening ear! Lee Gries of Stephen Ministries says, "People are healed by the laying on of ears."
Listening is a large part of what ministry is all about. I would love to spend an hour each week with each one of you. But we know that an average week does not have 500 hours! That is impossible. If I were to have 20 one‑hour appointments per week, I could still only get around to each person only one or two times per year! So how are we going to care for the people that we have? And how are we going to care for those in the community that we do not yet have?
The Dilemma of Moses Jethro had a solution. Moses was in a similar situation. He was out there in the wilderness with 600,000 people clambering for his attention. They had lots of needs. They were broken, uneducated people who had just come out of slavery. They had not learned responsibility. They were poor. Their homes had been broken. They had not learned how to solve problems.
On top of that, they had thrown off the old rules and had not yet established new rules. They were an unruly bunch! I can imagine that they stole, they lied, and they committed adultery.
Moses was a busy man. He was a full‑time counselor with a client load of 600,000. People were lined up to see him and had to wait all day for an appointment. There was something wrong with the set‑up. It wasn't fair to Moses and it wasn't fair to the people. What should they do? How were the needs of the people to be met?
Jethro, Moses' father‑in‑law, took one look at what Moses was doing and said, "What you are doing is not good! It is not good for you. It is not good for your wife and children. It is not good for the people. And it is not good for the potential leaders among the people." Turn in your Bibles to Exodus 18:13‑26 and let's see what he had to suggest. Read Exodus 18:13‑26.
A Senior Pastor's Job Description Jethro outlined a job description not only for Moses but for every senior pastor, including myself. There were three parts.
Notice verse 19, "You must be the people's representative before God." In other words, you need to pray for the people.
That is one thing that I can do. Give me an hour a day and I can pray for each one of you every week! On Sunday morning it is my responsibility to talk to you about God. During the week it is my responsibility to talk to God about you!
Verse 20 gives a second instruction to senior pastors. Jethro tells Moses that it is his responsibility to teach the people. "Teach them the decrees and laws," he says. "Teach them how to live." That is also something I can do. Each Sunday I have the responsibility to open the Scriptures and teach you one lesson on how to live. This is an awesome responsibility! I want to take the time to do it well which means that I will need to limit my counseling load. I need adequate time to prepare. I want to preach and teach it with the power that it deserves.
Verse 21 gives the third instruction for a senior pastor. Notice that it begins with the word, "but." That indicates that there is something substantially different from what has gone on before that needs to be done. What is it? Verse 21 says "select capable men from all the people . . . and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens." Name capable group leaders.
A prominent businessman once told me, "Your Christian Bible has one of the wisest business management principles ever discovered. It is found in Exodus 18." One person can only care for about ten others. In a factory there is usually a supervisor for every seven workers.
Jethro knew how to work with people. Wherever Jethro's principles have been followed, God has added his blessing. Jesus began the church with small groups and it spread throughout the whole Roman Empire. John Wesley started classes of ten in the 18th century and as a result the Methodist church grew to millions. Andrew Flake of the Southern Baptist Church introduced what has been called the "Flake Principle." It says that every time you have a regular attendance of ten persons in a Sunday school class, you should start another one. The principle is the key reason why the Southern Baptist Church has grown to be the largest denomination in the country.
So we see that Jethro advised Moses, and I believe senior pastors today, to pray for their people, to teach them basic principles, and to appoint leaders over small groups of people.
Appoint Lay Pastors for Small Groups
Moses followed Jethro's advice. In verse 25 it says, "He chose capable men." They were "from all Israel" (v 25). All aspects of a congregation and a community need to be represented in a leadership team. We need leaders from both the blue collar and white collar segments of society. We need women and we need men. We need young people and older people.
The key quality is that each leader needs to be filled with the Spirit of God. Verse 21 tells us that Moses chose people who feared God. They were trustworthy. They were hungry and thirsty for righteousness. People who had a heart for ministry.
Moses released the ministry to these trustworthy, spiritual leaders. He was convinced that lay people could do what he had been doing. He made lay leaders responsible for small groups of people. He kept ministry and decision‑making at the lowest level possible.
Paul Tournier, the noted Swiss psychiatrist, has said, "Ninety percent of people's problems are best dealt with by fellow strugglers, not psychiatrists, doctors, or clergy." If we are going to wait on psychiatrists, doctors, and preachers to counsel us on every situation, we too are going to stand in line for a long time. We will not get our needs met.
On the other hand, if we choose one person out of ten to serve as a minister to the other nine, there is a lot of ministry that can be done! In small groups of twelve or less we can meet week after week to share our joys and problems. We can pray for each other. We can visit each other in the hospital. We can bring food when someone is ill and help each other when the times get difficult. In the priesthood of all believers, lay persons can serve as lay pastors to their fellow brothers and sisters.
An Invitation to HOME Groups (insert information on your church's small groups or classes) 1 would invite you to look at the brochure about HOME Groups. We want to affirm that HOME groups are already bringing close, accepting, relationships to Calvary Mennonite Church. We want to affirm and expand a good thing.
HOME groups are part of God's plan for ministering to the needs of people. We are seeing them
as the key pastoral structure of Calvary Mennonite Church. If you want to be well pastored, you
need to get yourself into a small group.
HOME groups furnish love, support, and encouragement. They provide points of entry for new people. And they meet in an informal setting which leaves room for fun and fellowship. Small groups help us to care deeply and consistently for one another. Therefore, we invite every attendee to consider becoming part of a HOME Group. HOME groups remove many of the traditional limits. HOME Groups are not limited by finances, facilities, or professional staff. Thev cost almost nothing.
But being part of a small group takes time. When we were in Vancouver, B.C., Ardys and I were part of a home group. Every Tuesday we met for Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. Here are some of the experiences we shared:
• In time Henry, a heart surgeon, found that he, himself, needed open‑heart surgery.
It was a traumatic time but we helped him through.
• Ed and Hedie had just retired in a condominium next to a golf course when they got a call from Mennonite Central Committee asking them to serve in Germany. We helped them through the decision and joyfully sent them off into service.
• Tannis flunked a major exam in medical school. Her self‑esteem took a plunge and she needed our support.
• Heidi had come off the streets a broken and discouraged person. What a joy it was to see her receive healing and then to have her come forward for baptism and be embraced in the family of God!
• We had invited (I will call them Fred and Karla) to join the group. But Fred was too
busy. He was a professor at the university and had a number of other projects going.
During the year Fred's brother died, and he lost funding for one of his projects. Another
leader and I went to the funeral and we expressed sympathy but then went on with
church as usual. Several weeks later, Fred came to me and said, "Palmer, I don't feel
the church really cares about me. My brother died, and no one said a word. I
lost my funding, and it seems nobody cares. People care for me more at the university
than they do here at the church." As kindly as I could, I said, "Fred, if you would be
in our small group, you would feel very differently." You can be sure that next year
Fred and Karla joined a small group.
People need the Lord. I invite you to indicate what kind of a group you would like to be in. If you would like, feel free to indicate with whom you would like to meet and who you would like to have serve as your leader. We all need the Lord!
Small Groups Make a Big Difference
to the People
Turn in your Bibles to Acts 6:1‑7. I want to make eight observations from this passage.
The first observation is that an increase of people without an increase of pastors or people to
oversee them causes problems.
This is the first time in the church that we notice that strife has broken out. Most of the people in this new church described in Acts were those who had grown up in the local community. They spoke Aramaic. They were like Mennonites whose parents spoke Low German or Pennsylvania Dutch and who had names like Yoder, Hostetler, and Kaufman. These people in the early church knew each other well. They knew who the widows were, and they knew who the people were who had special needs.
The early church seemingly took over a custom from the Synagogue. Every Friday two collectors went around the market and to homes collecting for the needy. They called it the Kuppah or the basket. Some people gave money; others gave food, used clothing, or whatever they had. Before sundown on Friday, that which had been collected was distributed. Those who were in temporary need received some basic essentials. The widows and shut‑ins received enough food for two meals a day for the next week. You can be assured that the needs of the local people were well taken‑care of. Acts 2 says that Christians even sold what they had so that they could share with whoever had need. Giving alms for the poor was one of the greatest acts of devotion.
The problem came with the new people who were coming in. The Jerusalem church was a growing church. It was like a mustard seed growing overnight into a huge tree. People moving in from Rome, from Greece, from Egypt, and from all over were impressed with what they saw. They were giving their hearts to the Lord, and the Lord was adding to the church daily those who were being saved. But the church had a hard time meeting all of their needs . . . especially those who came from the outside. They weren't in the grape vine. The pastors didn't know all the people; they didn't know all the needs.
There is a reason why people come to church. They come to worship God, but they also come to get their needs met. When people get their needs met, they will keep on coming. You come to Calvary because you get your needs met. If you don't get your needs met, you will stop coming. You will go to where you do get your needs met. Some churches meet the needs of some people, while others meet the needs of others.
Abram Maslow has helped us by developing a hierarchy of needs. Let me modify it a bit. At the bottom is what we would call physical needs. Everyone needs food, water, and shelter. When basic physical needs are met, people can move to the next set of needs which are called safety needs. People need to feel secure. They need hospital insurance, police protection, and assurance of retirement. The Amish and Hutterites provide these needs in a special way. We do it as a family and in our small groups.
The next level of needs is social or relational needs. We all need to feel loved. We need to belong to a family . . . to a group of people where we feel accepted. This need is connected with the next level of need which Maslow calls esteem needs. We need to be recognized and affirmed for the gifts that we have or the contributions that we make. If this need isn't met in the church, people are going to go elsewhere.
The most important need is spiritual. The primary reason why we come to Calvary is to get our spiritual needs met! We do that in the singing, in the prayers, and in the preaching of the word. We come here to meet God!
There were people in the early church, especially those who had come in from the outside, who were not getting their needs met. They were dissatisfied. There was an increase of people without an increase of pastors. They brought the complaint to Pastor Peter and to Pastor James, Pastor John, and the rest of the twelve. What did they do?
Observation number 2 is that the congregation came together to discuss the problem.
Verse 2 says, "The twelve gathered all the disciples together." Why did they do this? There was going to be a major change. Up until now the pastors had done all the ministry. But it wasn't working any more. The church had become too large. People's needs were not being met.
The Apostles, who functioned like a board of elders, were going to suggest a change. They were going to suggest that some of the ministry be done by lay pastors. This was going to be a major, major change! Up until now the pastors had done it all. Because everyone would be affected, they called the whole congregation together.
Most people don't like change. When change is proposed, most of us are automatically against it. We are used to having it the way it was. Change is uncomfortable.
I heard of an old man who lived up in Maine. He turned one hundred, and a reporter from New York went up to interview him. He got out his legal pad and said, "Now, mister, a hundred years is a long time. I'm sure that you have seen many, many changes during that period of time." The old man crossed his arms, set his jaw, and said, "Yep, and I've been against every one of them!"
Change isn't always comfortable; but if we are going to make progress in our personal lives or in our church, we will need to make changes from time to time. The church was faced with change. The disciples pulled the congregation together to discuss it.
Observation # 3 is that many needs force a pastor to clarify priorities.
It is interesting to note that Peter, James, John, and the rest of those early pastors came up with the same priorities that Jethro had advised for Moses. As senior pastor of Israel, Moses was to pray for the people, to teach them the ways of God, and to lead a team of lay ministers. Moses was trying to meet all the needs of the people; and Jethro said, "What you are doing is not good. You are losing your focus. You are wearing yourself out and the needs of the people are not being met."
Here in Acts 6 verses 2, 3, and 6, the lead pastors of the church declared their priorities. Their priorities were prayer, ministry of the word, and leading the church.
Leading the church leads us to observation # 4: Lay pastors were selected to assist the professional pastors.
Verse 5 tells us that they chose Stephen and six other men to assist in the ministry.
When Chairman Mao Tse‑Tung was leader in China, he observed that the population of the country was growing so fast, and the medical needs of the people were so great, that they couldn't train enough professional doctors to meet the need. So they selected what they called "barefoot doctors." They called them barefoot doctors because these doctors could walk to your house when there was a need. They were barefoot because they couldn't pay them much. What they found was that these barefoot doctors could meet about 90% of the physical needs of the people. For the 10% who needed surgery or specialized care, they developed hospitals and professional doctors. When we were in China twelve years ago, we went both to a hospital where specialized care was given and we went to a village medical clinic out of which a barefoot doctor worked. It was amazing what happened. The capacity of the Chinese people to meet the physical needs of their people was dramatic!
As we further develop the small group ministry here at Calvary, we are going to have what we might call "barefoot lay pastors." They will come to your house, and we won't pay them much. We will meet in homes and meet each other's needs. The leaders or lay pastors will help us meet each other's needs.
When people's needs are being met, the church will grow. The leaders of the early church weren't afraid of the church growing too large. Sometimes we are afraid if the church gets too big, we won't get our needs met anymore. In the early church they met in their small groups where they knew everyone personally. They also met in the temple with all 3,000. With this combination they had their physical, social, and spiritual needs met. That can also be true for us.
Observation # 5 is that lay pastors had to be qualified.
In this passage I see six qualifications. First, they were to be members. Verse 3 says, "Choose seven men from among you." They were part of the body. They had given their testimony. Everyone knew where they stood in relationship to the Lord.
Second, they were to be people of integrity. The King James Version says they were to be men of honest report. They were to have a good reputation. They were to be trustworthy.
Third, they were to be Spirit‑filled. They were to have the qualities mentioned in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
Fourth, they were to be filled with wisdom. They were to be people of good common sense.
Fifth, they were to be responsible people. Verse 3 says, "We will turn this responsibility over to them." We will put them in charge.
And finally, they were to be full of faith. Verse 5 says, "They chose Stephen, a man full of faith . . ."
(Insert information relevant to your church.) We are developing our own set of qualifications for small group leaders here at Calvary. If a new leader doesn't have a qualification, we will help that person acquire it. We want our leaders to be models that others will want to follow. We want them to be qualified so that they can set the pace for us in their life, their attitude, and in their giving.
Observation # 6 is that the congregation responded positively to the suggestion.
Verse 5 says, "This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose seven qualified men and brought them to the apostles." By their names we can tell that they included Greek speaking Christians.
Here at Calvary we want to make sure that those of you who have been coming into the church more recently have your needs met. You need to help us choose leaders that minister to your needs and that speak for you to the elders, to the council, and to the whole church. Let us know from time to time how we are doing.
Observation # 7 is that the pastors approved and laid hands on the lay pastors.
(Insert information relevant to your church.) On September 17 we want to have a short service of dedication and commissioning for our lay leaders. It should be a good time of being thankful for the gifts and the willingness that God has given them.
There is a special power that flows to a person who knows that he or she has the blessing of God and the congregation. We want to give our approval and our blessing to these people whom we believe God is choosing to help meet the needs of the people who are coming to us.
Observation # 8 is that the needs of the people were met and the church kept on growing.
Verse 7 says, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."
I wonder what attracted the priests? Might it have been that the priests in the temple were people in charge of meeting the spiritual needs of the people? When they saw how well the spiritual needs of the people were being met in the church, they converted and got on board. I am excited about the possibilities of the church. Our purpose is to meet the needs of the people.
The Results of Choosing Lay Pastors What was the result of choosing these lay pastors? I see five results.
First, it helped those who had needs. Their needs were met. We ask, "How are we going to care for those that we already have?" This passage gives us the answer. Lay pastors can help meet the needs of widows and of all of us when we have needs.
Second, this pattern of doing ministry healed the strife. The emerging schism was healed. People were no longer talking about who was Greek and who was Jew. When we have a good cross section of leaders, we will no longer talk about who grew up in the Mennonite tradition and who did not. We will all be one in Christ.
Third, the pattern eased the burden of the pastors. They had a manageable job description. They knew that they could pray, and preach, and lead the church well.
Fourth, the pattern gave the lay pastors an important ministry in the church. They felt needed. And God used them greatly.
And finally, the pattern helped to raise up two lay people to greater work than they had been doing. Stephen and Philip became great evangelists.
Conclusion I have often said in my seminars across the country, "The small group movement is the best thing that has happened to the church since the Reformation! The Reformation turned the Scriptures back to the people. The small group movement is turning the ministry back to the people." When that happens, God has a lot more to work with.
I believe God has something great in store for us here at Calvary. Let's not be afraid of it. When people's needs are being met, they will know that God is present. Small groups make a big difference for the people whom God is calling. They have their needs met. They come into a relationship with God. And they are added to the church.
Small Groups Make a Big Difference
to the Community
Billy Graham was asked a few years ago, "If you were to pastor a large church in a large city, what would be your plan of action?" Everyone in the room sat with attention and pen in hand listening to what this spokesman of Christianity would say.
"The first thing I would do," he said, "is to get a small group of people, 8, 10, maybe up to 12, and I would bring them around me for a few hours each week. I would ask them to pay a price. It would cost them something in time and effort. It would also cost me something. During those years 1 would be with them, I would teach them everything that I knew.
"I would eventually have 8,10, or 12 lay pastors. I would equip and train them and then release them into the church body to each, in turn, find 8, 10, or 12 other people into whom they would pour their lives. I would continue that process until all of the people in the large church in the large city would be in a small group."
And then he said, "I believe Christ set that pattern."
During these weeks we have been exploring the subject, "Small Groups Make a Big Difference." Two weeks ago we saw how small groups made a big difference for Moses. Jethro advised him to break down that large crowd of people he was trying to serve into small groups. Lay pastors of tens and fifties and hundreds came around Moses and helped him do the pastoral ministry. Last Sunday we saw how small groups made a big difference in the early church. The needs of the people weren't being met. The Apostles called for a congregational meeting and they added seven lay pastors to the team. As a result, proper pastoral care was available for everyone including the widows.
Today, in Acts chapter 2, we will see how small groups made a big difference in how the church reached out to the community.
Let me say that I have been greatly helped in the preparation of these messages by teachings that I received from John Maxwell, pastor of the Skyline Wesleyan Church of San Diego, California.
I hope that my teaching to you can be as helpful as his has been to me.
Read Acts 2:41‑47.
This is the best description we have of the early church. In the Reformation our spiritual ancestors tried to get back to this model of the church. We are still trying to recreate it in our time and setting. I believe it is as close to what the Lord has in mind as we can get. I want you to notice eight things about this church. Notice in verse 41 that:
They Joined Together
There were 3000 people who were added to the church in one day. That is what I would consider to be a large membership class! What would we do at Calvary if only a tenth that many, 300 people, would want to join the church all at one time? Pastor Jeff and Pastor Ramiro and I would be busy visiting with people for weeks. We would need some help or all three of us would go to see Jesus in a pretty short time!
Let's scale that down to 30. If we are faithful, might God honor our invitations and our enthusiasm by giving us 30 new people this year?
The remarkable thing about the early church is that they had a pattern for nurturing 3000 new believers and bringing them into the body. This wasn't merely some Pentecostal high that would come and go. They immediately got busy teaching them and I believe small groups made a big difference in how they received them into the church.
They Learned Together Verse 42 says that they "devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching." The word for "teaching" is a very active word. The new people didn't just sit there and listen. They went to the temple and learned together like we do in Sunday school or like we do in worship and then they went to small groups in the homes to flesh it out. In the temple they got the big picture. In the homes they figured out what that would mean for their lives. They got different ideas from each other. They saw different options and suddenly the teaching made sense for their lives.
Research done by Dale Galloway of New Hope Church in Portland indicates that people learn eight times faster when they dialogue an idea rather than merely hear it. In Sunday school lessons and in sermons we can teach great spiritual truth but we find that spiritual growth happens fastest in small groups. We all learn best when we learn together.
When new people come into the church, they have a lot to learn. Small groups make a big difference in how new people learn about God and the Christian faith.
They Had Fellowship Together
When they came together, they not only learned together‑verse 42 says that they also had fellowship. The real miracle of Pentecost was that people from every nation under heaven came together in a unified body. They shared together, ate together, and had fun together.
Relationships were of paramount importance. In the large group they nurtured their relationship with God, and in the small group they nurtured their relationships with each other. Small groups made a big difference in how both the members and the newcomers felt about the church. It was not a stuffy, legalistic place. It was a place of love and fellowship. It enjoyed the favor of all the people. Part of this was that:
They Ate Together Now that's a statement that is close to my heart! Every time I call for a meeting, Ardys already knows that it is going to involve food. Food does so much for a meeting!
Verse 42 says that they broke bread together in the temple, and verse 47 says they ate together in their homes. They were an eating church. Psychologists say that you can never really know a person until you have eaten with him or her. There is something that happens when we eat together.
When we were in Hong Kong a dozen years ago, we went to the Mennonite Church for Sunday morning worship. We had worship together, and then the whole congregation went across the street to an outside restaurant to have Sunday dinner together. They did that every Sunday. They had a great sense of fellowship. New people were continually coming into the fellowship.
When new people come to our fellowship, it is also important that we invite them to have food with us. Next Sunday if we have guests, let's invite them to the pot‑luck picnic. Bring plenty of food. It is a way to do evangelism!
But let me encourage you to do more than that. Let me encourage you to invite new people to your homes. Something happens when you eat together. Make it a goal to invite someone every month. If you can't invite them to your home, invite them to eat with you at McDonald's or another restaurant! Something of what happens in communion begins happening when we have even a simple hamburger together.
During this last year I tried to visit the dozen or so Bible study groups we have going in the church. I noticed that during the Bible study time or during prayer, we are pretty sober. But bring out the food, and everybody opens up. The early church had a good balance of Bible study and fellowship. We need the same. Eating together in small groups makes a big difference in how new people feel accepted in the church.
There is more here. Notice in verse 42 that:
They Prayed Together
There is something special that happens when we pray together. Prayer shows concern. It is wonderful when someone says, "I am praying for you." But there is something even more wonderful when that person prays "with" you.
Shoua Moua is a Laotian pastor in Los Angeles. He has led literally hundred of persons to Christ. I met him at the conference in Wichita. When I asked him how he does it, he simply said, "I pray with the people."
"What do you pray for?" I asked him.
"I pray for whatever they need," he said. "That speaks to them. They find out that the Lord meets their needs and they establish a relationship with him."
Evangelism isn't some strange thing that only specialized evangelists can do. It is doing for others what we generally do only for each other. As new people come to the church, let's be eager to pray with them. Home groups are a good place for that to happen. It's a place where we can hear each other out and then cast our burdens on the Lord.
The early church not only learned together. They not only fellowshipped and ate and prayed together.
They Experienced God Together
Verse 43 says, "Everyone was filled with awe." Many signs and wonders were taking place. Not the least of which was that they were meeting each other's needs.
I am sure that in their worship services at the temple they experienced God together. When you get 3,000 people together, you can sing and pray and get into touch with the transcendent, almighty God in very special ways; but it was also in the homes that they experienced God.
Take a look at church history, and you will see that every great spiritual movement has started with small groups. In the early church, the Christians were meeting in the homes and God was adding to their number daily those who were being saved. In the Protestant Reformation, the Anabaptists were meeting in small groups and growing by thousands. In the 1700s, John Wesley organized class meetings of ten people each, and the Great Awakening was the result. In the 1800s, there was a second Great Awakening when in a small college in Virginia small groups began to pray.
Later students gathered in what were called the "Haystack Prayer Meetings" and the great missionary movement was born.
Spiritual growth through small groups is continuing to happen in South America. It is happening in Africa. It is happening in Asia. It is happening here in North America among churches of every denomination. This summer when I was out East, I visited the Cornerstone Mennonite Church. Through small groups it has grown from zero to over 1,000 in a decade.
When Communism took over China, there were only about five million Christians in that large country. Thousands of missionaries had worked for a hundred years to bring it to that number. In 1950 it was all shut down. But those Christians didn't give up. They got into small groups and invited their friends. Now there are over 50 million Christians in China.
Everywhere you look, small groups are making a big difference in the way the church is doing outreach. Nobody knew that better than the early church. There is one more thing here:
They Ministered Together
Those who were sick were cared for. Those who were hungry were fed. Verse 45 says that "they gave to anyone as he had need." It appears that these early Christians cared for people as if they were helping Jesus himself. "I was hungry." Jesus said, "and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you took me in, naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me and I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:35‑36).
Each of us can care for a few people. Ten is about the limit. None of us, not even a pastor, can truly and deeply care for more than ten people at a time. But when we all get into groups of ten, we can all care for each other. The result of all this is that:
They Grew Together
Verse 47 says, "The Lord was adding to the church daily those who were being saved." Why was this happening? I believe it was happening because they had a sense of community! They were experiencing community both in the temple and in the small groups. People liked what they saw. They "enjoyed the favor of all the people." Jesus had promised that if we "seek first the kingdom of God" then "all these other things will be yours as well." That is what the early church was experiencing.
(Insert information appropriate to your church.) Two weeks from today we will have a commissioning service for our small group leaders. We will invite them to come to the front with their spouses and we will dedicate them to the task of building Christian community. In small groups we will seek first the kingdom of God.
I will be available to everyone in the church. But in a special way I want to pour myself into these lay pastors. They will be the leaders often that Jethro advised. They will be the seven leaders of Acts 6 filled with the Spirit and wisdom. They will help us to be the kind of church that we see described in Acts chapter 2.
Each small group should be an open door to the community. I encourage you to literally pull an empty chair into your class or group and ask:
Who would we like to invite to fill this empty chair next week?
Letters and invitations to the community might bring new people to us, but those new people will not stay unless their needs are met. One of the greatest needs of any person is the need for at least two or three friends. If they are to have a lasting, meaningful experience, newcomers, like old‑timers, need to learn together, fellowship together, eat together, pray together, and minister together. If we experience God together in such ways, the Lord will add to the church weekly those who are being saved.
There is a great song that I love to sing. In it God says,
"For I'm building a people of power, and I'm making a people of praise that will move through this land by my Spirit and will glorify my precious name.