This Sunday, I will be teaching on the role of small groups in discipleship at our church here in Chiang Mai. Small groups (life groups, house churches, etc.) have become increasingly more popular in the West. In recent days, many Western Christians have looked to the tremendous growth seen in the Eastern Church as an argument for implementing them in their local congregations. In fact, I believe that Francis Chan recently published a new book about this very thing.
We know that discipling in small groups is biblical for two reasons. First, this is model Jesus chose for discipleship (Mark 3). He could have chosen to disciple hundreds of people, but instead He chose to focus on 12 men. Second, the early Church often grew from house to house, family to family, small group to small group (Acts 2:42-47). Evangelistic crusades and worship conferences have been used mightily of God in the past, but nothing can compare to living in community with people you know and love, personally.
I am not arguing that “big Church,” as we sometimes called it back home in Georgia, is wrong in any way, shape, or form. I love meeting together to worship with my church family; it is a truly a foretaste of what heaven will be like. I just know from personal experience, and from what I hear from some of my closest friends, that the turning point in their lives with Jesus was having a small group to be a part of. I know one guy, in particular, whose life changed dramatically as the result of being discipled in a small group setting. I should note that one-on-one discipleship has been proven successful for some. However, if the long term goal in our discipling methods is not to plant healthy churches, to live in community with others, what is the goal?
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).” If we want the world to know the love of Christ for themselves, we have to show them it is real first. We show them by the way that we love one another. I don’t know about you, but I am terrible at remembering peoples’ names. If I can hardly do this, how can I effectively love people? The answer is simple: I must be intentional. Maybe I cannot remember everyone’s name at church, but I can remember everyone’s name in my small group. Maybe I don’t know how to pray for everyone’s needs at church, but I do know how to pray for everyone’s needs in our small group. And maybe I can’t realistically love everyone at my church with as much zeal as I would like, but I can love the eight or so people God has given me to love in our small group. No Christian can do everything, but we can do something.
I believe that this type of intentional love for others is what changes the world, not political policy or social revolution. It is just people loving people the way that Jesus demonstrated and commanded us to do, as well.