Patty wanted a more connected church experience. She returned to church after a several year hiatus and wanted to be involved beyond Sunday mornings. “I also wanted to meet other people who had similar interests and desires.” Patty signed up for a community group. That’s where she met Noel.
Noel was on a two-year Navy assignment. His wife and children were on the opposite coast and he needed a different kind of family to support him during his time away. Noel signed up for a community group and met Tony and Hope.
Tony was visiting church for the first time with his friend Hope. Hope signed up for a community group, but Tony wasn’t interested. “I was just there to be a fly on the wall,” says Tony. But then he ran into Joon.
Joon and Tony worked out at the same gym and immediately struck up a conversation. Joon’s girlfriend Rina thought it would be a good idea to join a community group together as a way to deepen their faith and develop closer friendships in the church. Tony decided he would check out the community group after all. So did Shirley, Stacey, Andrew, Ann, and Donna Rose.
It was hard for Tony to maintain his fly-like state. He had so many questions about God. Everyone did. Over a lot of good food, laughter, teasing, and even a few tears, the group tucked into the Bible and started bonding through lively, honest debates—grappling with questions, admitting struggles, and celebrating newfound revelations.
The First Community Gatherings
This description is not unlike the first followers of Jesus, who gathered in homes to learn about his teachings. They ate meals together, they prayed together, they shared possessions, and talked about the miraculous things God was doing (Acts 2:42–46). There are many types of groups within the church that can enhance your spiritual walk and connect you more deeply to your pew buddies, as well as meeting the needs of the church or local community.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:42–46 NIV)
Also known as life groups, small groups, or fellowship groups, these gatherings provide deeper connections between church members and opportunities to deepen faith through group discussion. If you have questions about Sunday sermons or are curious about how to practically apply biblical principles, community groups are a great place to hash out your questions and gain spiritual insight, advice, and encouragement. Patti says, “Group is a safe place to question what I believe or how I think or act in a certain situation. Understanding that God loves me no matter what, as long as I accept him and repent, has both shaken my faith and deepened it. . . . Even some of the most devout, scripture-quoting, firmly religious members of my group will quickly say they are sinners, but they know God loves them and they are saved. That is awesome.”
The structure of each group is different. Some focus on studying the Bible or reading a spiritual book, while others discuss weekly sermons in more detail. Others gather to serve the needs of the church or local community.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105 ESV)
In Romans, Paul tells us the scriptures were written for our guidance and instruction, and to give us endurance, encouragement, and hope in our faith (Romans 15:4). In his Relevant Magazine article “4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church,” New Testament expert Preston Sprinkle explains Bible study wasn’t an option for first century Christians. According to his research, new believers were required to spend their first three years of faith immersed in group study.
Many churches offer Bible studies where you can learn more about a book or passage of scripture. These groups may have formal study guides or be self-directed. Have questions about the more confusing tenets of faith, such as what’s up with those Old Testament animal sacrifices or how exactly does the Trinity work? Group Bible study can be extremely beneficial to help you understand the social, political, religious, literary, and historical context in which the scriptures were written when multiple people’s research, perspectives or knowledge are incorporated.
“…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:11 NIV)
Jesus said, “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am” (Matt. 18:20 NIV). Through prayer groups you develop the discipline of prayer and thanksgiving, helping you to become more aware of how God is at work in your life and in the world. Most churches offer one or more prayer groups, which may be centered on church needs, the needs of church members, or the work of missionaries who are accomplishing God’s work in many parts of the world. Prayer groups may meet in large or small groups.
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15–16 NIV)
Throughout the Bible, we are repeatedly instructed to feed the hungry and take care of the poor (Psalm 82:3), as well as to use our God-given gifts to serve the needs of the church and its people (Acts 20:28). For this reason, most churches offer some type of volunteer or community service. Volunteer groups may focus on the weekly or day-to-day needs of the church—door greeters, ushers, welcome center hosts—or on the needs of the community, coordinating volunteers for homeless shelters, working at crisis centers, after-school tutoring, and more.
The benefits of joining a small group are myriad. But perhaps the most important reason is found in the word “community” itself, which, means “with unity.” Meeting together regularly to learn more about God can develop a bond that may see you through some of your deepest struggles and reveal more of the true nature of God. A dear friend of mine, who has experienced some unimaginable losses said it best, “On the days when it’s hard to see Jesus, [your] group becomes the image of Christ, wearing human flesh, walking with you.” “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 ESV).
Community Group FAQ
How do I get involved in a community group? Flip through your church bulletin, or visit your church’s welcome or hospitality center to find out about smaller group activities. A pastor or church elder can also help point you in the right direction.
Can community groups take the place of Sunday morning services? Community groups are meant to enhance your corporate church experience through group worship, scripture reading and recitation, and sermons—not to replace it, just as a group discussion circle in school facilitates the understanding and application of a class lecture.
What if my church doesn’t offer community groups? If your church doesn’t offer community groups, or you’re having trouble gelling with an existing group, don’t worry. Many successful groups are formed organically inside or outside the church; consider forming your own group.
How big should a group be? Most churches recommend groups do not exceed 16 members. However, 8 to 12 members is optimal, as it’s large enough to encourage group sharing, while not so large as to overwhelm quieter members. Prayer groups or volunteer groups may vary in size.
Where do groups meet? You can meet anywhere your group agrees—a park, a coffee shop, or a pub. However most group meetings take place in a group member’s home.
How often do groups meet? Groups usually meet weekly to facilitate ongoing connection. However, depending on the group type, they may meet bi-weekly or even monthly.
How long does a meeting last? Meetings typically last 1.5 to 2 hours.
Who leads the group? Groups are usually led by a volunteer. Some churches facilitate training and leadership programs for small group leaders and/or supply resources.
What are the responsibilities of group members? To get the most out of your group, commit to showing up and sharing regularly. Each individual’s perspective and experiences shape and enhance the group’s dynamic. If you can’t make a meeting, notify the other members. And don’t forget to bring food! Most groups like to have a meal together or assign a person or two to bring a snack each week.