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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47)
Key Elements In The Jerusalem Church
- The apostle’s teaching
- Breaking Bread
- The Prayers
- Working signs and wonders
- Sharing their material goods with each other and anyone else who had need (remember the out-of-towners?)
Today we address the final elements that Luke tells us they took care of during those days as they prepared to send these new Christians to their homes all across the Roman Empire where no one had yet heard of the news.
- Every Day They met together in the temple courts: Large and Medium Sized Groups
- Large Meetings: Auditorium
- Medium Groups: Bible Classes
- They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
- Small Groups:in Homes
- praising God
- and enjoying the favor of all the people
- Small Groups:in Homes
- The Result?
- “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Small groups are really not an optional activity for a church. In truth, we all have small groups unless we are completely isolated from one another, going through the motions like zombies: i.e., park car, walk in, greet others superficially, sit in pew, sing, pray, participate in Lord’s Supper, give money, listen to sermon, sing, pray, leave.
Sadly, this may very well describe those among us who have decided that there is no life in church; therefore, don’t risk relationships. They are duty bound to do worship correctly but find no real value in fostering relationships or stepping out of their comfort zones. Others have been so hurt by church people in the past that they attend out of a sense of guilt or, again, duty and obligation. They move to the margins, waiting for the next cause for offense before they threaten to leave…but they stay because that is what they are supposed to do.
Then there are small groups that naturally form around families, shared interests or sociological/economical similarities. You can find these in any social grouping in clubs, service organizations, occupational unions, sporting associations, etc. Because of our shared interests we find commonalities that cause us to be attracted naturally to one another because of our shared heritages, interests, passions or family life cycles. In fact, churches often foster these for men’s groups, women’s classes, young married’s activities and youth events. Natural, organic, neutral gatherings of people that allow us to feel connected. There is nothing particularly wrong with them in the church unless they become exclusionary, restrictive and closed to allowing admittance to others, shunning anyone else who would invade their cloistered cluster of self interests and mutual admiration.
Then there are the deliberate, intentional forming of small groups as a means for equipping people for life or special works of service. I believe that this is what we find in the first century church: small groups that began to form in Jerusalem to create a model for ministry that reached across the natural attractors and formed relationships that stressed the kingdom principles of unity in diversity, acceptance, caring and love, among many others. Foreigners from different regions of their nation state may be invited to the home of someone who had opened their abode to an apostle who had been gifted by the Holy Spirit to speak their language. Strangers drawn together in Christ because of their practical concern to hear teaching in their own language, who would one day travel home together forming a brotherly network of relationships before breaking up to form other small groups in their own hometowns.
Suddenly growing from a small congregation of 120 members to a mega-church of more than 3,000, the small church provided the network that was needed to meet each other’s challenges before they returned home. How else could they become aware of the financial needs of each other so members could rush out to sell property for the apostles to distribute to those with special needs. How else could they become aware of the Grecian widows in Acts 6:1-7?
We have no evidence of a “Benevolence Committee” but there was plenty of need to care for people at the grass-roots level. Setting these groups up immediately prepared the church for the surge that would overwhelm them in Acts 4:4: 5,000 men! An event, by the way, that served as the hinge point in Jesus’ ministry and that is recorded in all four gospel accounts: the feeding of the 5,000. We assume those 5,000 men had wives and children! How would they tend to their needs? The small group structure was already in place plus the small, medium and large groups that already met in the temple square. Healthy small groups would divide to grow, struggling groups would be sent new members and new groups would be formed.
These factors all reinforce the need for small groups in any church setting. Processing new members that God will send to His people is a constant need from small churches that already have established familial relationships to giga-churches that exceed 10,000 members. Small groups are formed in anticipation that the Lord will send people who will need to be assimilated into the body of Christ.
Larger churches must have small groups for at least one added reason. That is because of the Shepherding challenge of the elders of larger churches. The body of Christ must care for itself at it’s most fundamental level through groups that are small. This objective is further enhanced when the groups are regionally located; i.e., neighborhoods. The webs of relationships formed provide a communication link for sudden needs that exceed the capacity of a particular small group–or a cluster of them–to meet for any number of reasons such as the magnitude of the problem or the limited resources of the group(s). The Grecian widows, again, provide a perfect example of this principle at work.
Small groups are a critical need for churches both large and small. They are not optional for churches that wish to grow. There are groups that naturally form as they do any time people come together for whatever reason. The small churches of the first century were strategically formed. Among the several purposes in mind was assimilation of new people into the body of Christ. The simplicity of small groups allowed the church to quickly adapt through periods of sudden, dramatic, accelerated growth from 120 to 3,000 to 5,000 men (plus their family members) and beyond. Small groups represent a church’s desire to be ready when God sends people to His people for help, hope and a place to belong.