Small Groups Ministry Overview

Small Groups Ministry Overview


Here is some information to help answer some general questions and help you to be a little more comfortable should you determine that we move forward in this together.


Group Duration

The groups will not be continuous. We will have three semesters during the year. We will have group sign-ups for each semester. This allows group members to continue their group if they wish but also reassures people that they are not stuck in the same group. By having a definite start and end date, we intend to help people to feel more comfortable with signing up and making a short-term commitment.


General year long calendar

This plan is made in order to correspond with the flow of our lives (i.e. school, holiday vacations, etc.).

Spring Semester – January, February, March

Break (no groups) – April

Summer Semester – May, June, July

Break (no groups) – August

Fall Semester – September, October, November

Break (no groups) – December


Small Groups Kick Off

Starting a ministry of this magnitude that will bring a significant change must be well-planned, sensitive and well-communicated. Here are a few details for the proposed beginning of this ministry.

  • Sunday morning sermons on Biblical Community
    • I’ll tie in the vision I shared one year ago (the first Sunday in 2012) where we talked about focusing on Worship and Fellowship. This shows the church where God has been working in 2012 and leading us to this point of greater fellowship.
  • Begin sign-ups on December 30th. Sign-ups will continue through the first week that groups begin meeting.
  • Semester begins on January 13th and lasts for 12 weeks, ending the week of March 31st.


Number, Size and Meeting Times of Groups

  • The ideal number in a group is 8-12. Because of this we will cap each group at 15. This assumes that 1-2 will not participate after signing up and that 1-2 will miss each week.
  • The desire is to have 60 sign up to participate. Based on this number, we are tentatively planning for 5 groups.
  • It would be prudent to have one of the small groups meet at the church building in the annex—assuming that we could recruit a leader and fill the group.
  • We will work with each group leader to determine a day and time that will be most beneficial to the ministry. We will allow the leader the flexibility and input to help select the most appropriate date and time.


What will be taught?

  • We will have a selection of pre-approved curriculum for the group leader to choose from. This ensures some level of oversight on the group while providing enough flexibility for the leader to find something he is comfortable with and allow him to take ownership in the success of the group.
  • We will have semesters in the future that will also include the groups covering the same curriculum. Including occasional semesters where the material is based off of the Sunday morning sermon.


Administrative Structure

Planning, organizing and implementing this ministry is quite detailed and involved. Here’s the skeleton structure of the administrative side.


Focus – plan the details, set the calendar, review the previous semester, have everything laid out

Form – lock down commitments from group leaders, finalize number of groups, curriculum, etc.

Fill – promote the groups to the church, hold sign-ups and fill the groups.

Facilitate – train group leaders, kick-off the groups, follow-up weekly with each group leader.

Luke 15 Notes

Jesus made God the Father figure. This was new to the listeners.

Jesus changed the view of God – to that of a Father.

Jesus always prayed Father – sometimes even using Abba.

No one ever talked about God like this.


Jesus is trying to communicate why he hangs out with sinners.

He’s looking for a way to talk about God.

No word describes God.

The best metaphor is Father.

Find a word to try to explain the universal pain that every parent feels when it comes to their children.


Most parents love their kids so much it hurts.

Everyone else in your life it takes time to love – but not with your children, its instant love.


Nobody is prepared for the joy or pain of parenting. If you’re a father and your child is lost, you have one agenda.

Jesus is trying to explain why he spends so much time with sinners.

Because their fathers’ heart is going to stay broken until all of his kids are back home.


The father didn’t have one lost boy – he had two. They had more in common that what you might think from a surface reading.

  1. Both boys resented their fathers’ authority. Because both wanted their fathers’ things more than they wanted their father. They both wanted a party with their friends and neither had their father on the guest list.


  1. Neither boy thought a relationship with their father was enough. They misunderstood the type of relationship that their father wanted.
    1. Things motivated the younger boy’s obedience. Things motivated the older boys’ obedience.
    2. Goodness is a weapon and a way of gaining control. They want the fathers’ blessings. You can tell that when times get hard, they get mad at God and the Church.


  1. Both boys saw their relationship as something to earn. The younger boy thought that he could not be at the Fathers’ table because he did not earn it. He thought he blew it. Father said he didn’t earn his place at the table in the first place. The older boy said that he had been slaving all these years for the father. He wasn’t there because a love or devotion. It was duty. He thought his work obligated the father. He thought his father owed him because of what he had done.
    1. Does any Dad want his kids to see him primarily as a task master.
    2. Merit didn’t cost the son his sonship. Merit didn’t earn the older boy his sonship.
    3. He never asked for a party because he didn’t see himself as a beloved son.
    4. How does it make the father feel if your boys talk to you like an employer with a labor shortage?


A father is a man who carries photographs where his money used to be.


The boys say I want this. The Dad says I want you.


Ever since the time in Genesis ch3 God has been asking the question, where are my kids? He came in person, in the form of Jesus to find his children; because God wants a relationship with his children. The bigger question is, what kind of a relationship do I want with God?


This story says that you can live right under the father and still be lost. Some people avoid the father by being very bad. Some people avoid God by being very good. God doesn’t want the dutiful service of slaves. He wants the willing joyful affection of sons.


Arms of God – folded (angry), up in the air (exasperation), wide open (love)

How do you see God’s arms?


Story ends on a sad note with an angry young man. Older brother was so mad and was willing to disgrace his father because of his perception of justice. Why was he so mad?

  1. Didn’t care about the lost.
    1. Easy to brand him as a self-righteous person. But, you can only grow self-righteousness in the soil of a community that values righteousness. Only when righteousness is valued that self-righteousness can grow.
      1. His reaction was consistent with his theology: people are either good and thus valuable or bad and therefore are worthless. Why should you care about people who are bad and are worthless?
      2. That’s what the critics were asking Jesus. He gave a new understanding as righteousness. He said all people are bad and valuable. Totally new paradigm. He was saying that they had no idea the value that God has placed on the people that they wanted to discard.
      3. Older brother didn’t want his brother back because he didn’t think he was worth it.
  2. He did care about the cost. Justice is required.
    1. Everything left in the diminished wealth belonged to the older brother. He’s already blown his part and now we’re spending it on my part of the money.
    2. Forgiveness always comes with a cost. And to the older brother it wasn’t worth the cost. He didn’t want to pay the price for reconciliation.
    3. It cost him a soured soul, missed joy. Cost his father the opportunity to stop grieving for a lost son. The older boy became a prodigal and he never left home.
    4. The story ends on a sad note. Jesus is trying to say that it’s sad because people are constantly trying to replace goodness for grace.
      1. He was a goodness had become a bigger barrier to a relationship with his father than his little brother’s badness had been. He was estranged from his father not in spite of his goodness, but because of it.
      2. Sad because there is a father who is full of grace that you are willing to disgrace him because you are determined to live your life by the goodness grid. Pay such a high price for it. What has it cost us?
        1. Become judgmental.
        2. Become angry. The good life we think we’ve lived doesn’t always result in the good life we think we deserve. Become bitter at church, family, neighbors and God.
        3. Become anxious. Because contentment is always based on achievement and acceptance is always based on performance.
          1. The father told him that everything he had was his. You can have a party, why haven’t you thrown yourself a party. Because he didn’t think he deserved a party. He didn’t think he had earned it.
          2. Not sure where you stand with God. Even though you are judging where others stand with God.
    5. How do you cope with “dropping the ball.”


Similarities and differences between the two brothers:

They know they have dropped the ball and they are in desperate need of grace. The older brother thinks he’s good. I hope that we would be a church full of younger brothers.


Every person that comes through the door is someone else’s son. Are we looking out for them so that we can meet them at the door, put our arms around them and hug them?

Significance of the Early House Churches

“The Significance of the Early House Churches” – Floyd Filson

Five ways the House Church impacts our understanding of the apostolic church:

  1. Enabled a distinctively Christian worship and fellowship. The creative and controlling aspects of their faith and life were precisely those which other Jews did not share. These aspects found unhindered expression not in temple or synagogue worship but in the house gatherings.
  2. Explains in part the great attention paid to family life in the letters of Paul and in other Christian writings. On many occasions entire households were often converted as a unit (Acts 16:33).
  3. The multiplicity of house churches in the city helps to explain the tendency to party strife in the apostolic age. Christians of a certain tendency grouped together and thereby were confirmed in that tendency. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 demonstrates a loyalty to households. There were definitive patron-client relationships. It’s natural to be attracted to personalities (i.e. favorite teachers, preachers, etc).
  4. The house church situation also sheds light upon the social status of the early Christians. The early church was not just a poor man’s group. 1 Corinthians 1:26 demonstrates that there were at least some wealthy members of the church. The apostolic church was more nearly a cross section of society than we have sometimes thought.
  5. Helps to understand the development of church polity. This was aided by the fact that many converts were formerly “God-fearers,” who had shown enough independence to leave their native faith heritage and establish a relationship with the synagogue. The house church became a training ground for the future leaders of the church following the apostolic era. Everything was set up for the host to emerge as the most prominent and influential member of the group. 1 Timothy is dealing with potential problems with the leadership. Titus is dealing with developing leaders.


Five Stages of Physical Development of the Church

  1. 50-150 AD
    1. Christians met only in private homes.
      1. Insula – apartment or tenement complex that housed numerous families. Often consisted of four to five levels surrounding a central court. Included lower and upper crust families.
      2. Domus – consisted of a suite of rooms grouped around an atrium. Atrium  was a rectangular room with an opening in the roof. It included a triclinium or a dining room where the meals would have been held while reclining on pillows (Palestine) or couches (gentiles).
      3. Villa – an estate consisting of a house, grounds and auxiliary buildings.
    2. This was a time when worship in Imperial Rome was split into two spheres: public and private. The public worship of the gods guaranteed the welfare of the Empire and a civic duty performed under state ritual. The private sphere is the locus where spiritual needs were satisfied by divinities of one’s personal choice. Christianity flourished in the private realm.
    3. There is no archeological evidence for Christianity during this time period.


  1. Intermediate Stage
    1. This is a transitional time between the house church and the domus ecclesiae; which were selective and partial alterations to interior structures of the family home to accommodate worship.


  1. 150-250 AD
    1. The house church moved from domestic to entirely religious function. A specific example is found at Dura Europus (246 AD).


  1. 250-313 AD
    1. Concludes with the Edict of Milan.
    2. Some met in larger buildings/halls – both private and public.
    3. This was the aula ecclesiae “hall of the church.” These predated the great persecution (303-311) and Constantine’s building spree.


  1. Post 313 AD
    1. Constantine began building basilica’s for church gatherings.
      1. These accommodated the larger groups.
      2. There were no pews as this time period was highlighted with a focus on the Eucharist (instead of the modern homiletically focused meeting that began during the Reformation).


Scriptures that that mention the physical location of the early church’s meetings:

Temple area

Acts 2:46 – Infant church met daily

Acts 5:12 – Meeting regularly at Solomon’s Portico

Acts 5:42 – Meet daily in the Temple teaching that Jesus is the Messiah


Upper Room

Luke 22:12 – Jesus and His disciples gathered to share His last Passover meal.

Acts 1:13 – the Apostles went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.

Acts 20:8 – Paul was in Troas with the Christians



Acts 10:25 – Peter converted Cornelius and his household

Acts 12:12 – gathered together at home of Mary (mother of John Mark) for prayer on behalf of Peter. Had a gate which meant that a courtyard must have separated the main building from the street.

Acts 16:34 – Paul and Silas brought into the house of the Philippian Jailer following his conversion. Hosted a meal for Paul and Silas.

Acts 21:8 – in Caesarea at Philip the Evangelists’ home.

1 Corinthians 16:19 – home of Priscilla and Aquila

Colossians 4:15 – church in Laodicia, Nympha’s house church

Philemon 2 – church that meets at the house of Philemon


Roman House Churches – at least 5, perhaps as many as 16

16:3-5; 16:10; 16:11; 16:14; 16:15


Other locations

Acts 19:9 – Paul taught in the Lecture Hall of Tyranus.


Role of Hospitality in the Growth of Christianity

There is a practical aspect of hospitality which Paul experienced and in some instances may have relied on during his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 21:4, 7, 16-17; Philippians 4:15-18). Often when he experienced difficulties it was due to a lack of hospitality (1 Cor 4:11-13; 2 Cor 6:4-10). In addition to being a practical issue for Paul it was also a fundamental expression of the Gospel where God had demonstrated ultimate hospitality in an eschatological sense (Matt 8:11; Matt 22; Luke 14:15-24). In early Christianity, hospitality was expressed in the form of sharing meals together in celebration of the risen Savior and acknowledging His presence and unifying work in their own community (1 Cor 11:17-34). This explains why Paul prominently listed hospitality as a function of the church leader in 1 Tim 3. In this way, Paul’s practice and teaching of hospitality mirrored that of the ministry of Jesus who used the meal as a unifying symbol of the socially marginalized of society (Luke 7:39; 19:7). In summary, hospitality was an expectation of both the Jewish and Greco-Roman culture. Hospitality in the church was primarily manifested as an informal, household based ministry for sustaining itinerant missions and unity within the community.


Bonhoeffer, Life Together

  1. Community is initiated by the work of Christ. This means that Christians need other Christians because of Jesus Christ. Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. We should not try to create a vision of what we hope for community to be. We should exist in the reality of what Jesus has created. We should be grateful and appreciate of our fellowship and not complain because it isn’t what we envision or hope for. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate. Physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.
  2. A Day With Others. Prayer, Reading the Scriptures, Singing the new song, table fellowship.
  3. The Day Alone. Let him who cannot be alone beware of Community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Intercession is a powerful creator of community. I see someone I did not like as a person for whom Christ offered His life.
  4. Ministry. Holding one’s tongue, meekness, listening, helpfulness, bearing (one another’s burdens Gal 6:2), proclaiming.
  5. Confession and Communion. Brings sin to light where it loses its’ power. Sin wants a man by himself. It withdraws him from community. Our experience of the cross and not life, makes one worthy to hear a confession.


Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family

  1. The group comes first. Strong-group society where the group is greater (priority) than the individual. Group is not only helpful, but also formative in our life’s decisions. Not until the individualistic culture did man ever need therapy. Our individual freedoms have pushed us over the edge of the emotional cliff.
  2. Family in the NT world. Purpose of marriage was to strengthen the family. Family went through/defined as the Patriline (allegiance there and not to spouse). Strongest bond was between brother and sister, not the spouse. Family is the most important group. The greatest act of disloyalty was betrayal of brother, not spouse. Jesus is changing the family.
  3. Jesus’ New Group. We have domesticated Jesus so that we can feel comfortable to bring Him home. Orthodoxy answers what Jesus is like. He is like God. Our response is worship and adoration. Orthopraxy helps to define what God is like. He is like the behaviors of Jesus which must be observed and copied. In this regard, Jesus modeled a new community and called it family. Creating an alternative family. Redefined the priorities of (1) God (2) Family (3) Church (4) Others to (1) God’s family (2) My family (3) Others. As Jesus created an alternative family and people found their identity in the context of their family, Christians are forced to redefine their identity.
  4. The Churches of Paul. Affective solidarity is emotional bond. Family unity – interpersonal harmony. Material solidarity – sharing of resources. Family Loyalty – undivided commitment to God’s group.
  5. The Church in the Roman World. Expanded not solely because of what they believed but predominantly because of how they behaved.
  6. Salvation as a Community Creating Event. Cannot have God has your Father unless you have the Church as your Mother (Cyprian of Carthage). When we are saved we are justified and familified.
  7. Life Together in the Family of God. Four NT values: share our stuff, share our hearts, stay and grow with one another, family is about more than me, wife and kids.
  8. Decision Making in the Family of God. Diagram of spirituality and community. Community is horizontal, spirit is vertical.
  9. Leadership in the Family of God. Plurality, servant


“Rich Pompeiian Houses, Shops for Rent, and the Huge Apartment Building in Herculaneum as Typical Spaces for Pauline House Churches” – David L. Bach

  • Evidence from domus in Pompeii and Herculaneum indicates that not all Pauline house churches were necessarily small or that they were private.
  • They may have been small, but may have accommodated numbers far greater than 40 persons.
  • Domus were ‘housefuls’ of persons unconnected by family ties. Rich and poor living in the same spaces.
  • Domus and insulae incorporated shops which placed owners, freedmen and slaves in the same domestic spaces.
  • They may have included public baths and/or gymnasiums.
  • Women owned some large domus, and would have exercised influence over groups that met and dined in their houses.




The first century church worshipped in homes. They existed as small and medium sized groups. In their context there were no large sized groups. Galatians 4:4 is an important text to reference; here’s a paraphrase: God sent Jesus at just the right time. In other words, God specifically picked that time period for which to send for His Sin

  • Spiritual formation and growth – Through our large and medium sized groups we are currently organized to teach people the content of the Bible. However, because we lack small sized groups, there is not substantial opportunity to process the content and apply it within the context of our own situations. This is due to the fact that people are reticent to “open up” in medium and large sized groups. People are more than willing to talk about an issue
  • Live out the “one another” passages.
  • We should not have to work around our structure (the way we practice our faith) in order to implement the directives of the Bible. The structure should support those.



Baby-Boom Generation (1946-1964) – This generation is 66 to 48 years old and is beginning to enter into retirement years. Their lives (including their religion) have roots and as such they are unlikely to make any significant changes—including coming to or changing churches. They are characterized as a materialistic generation that enjoyed the prosperity created by those who came before them. They did not experience (not can they understand) the struggles that they preceding generations endured. They have expected to be served and catered to. In the religious context this is demonstrated through the development of the entertainment-focused worship services. This was the first generation that was widely educated; with approximately 30% hold college degrees. This is by far the highest percent of any generation coming before them. This led them to highly value education for their children.


Generation X (1965-1980) – This generation is 47-32 years old. They have established careers and are greatly in debt. While they have worked hard to develop their careers, they have been slow to have children and develop their faith. Referring to their faith, this generation is widely guilty of abandoning any religious heritage their parents passed on to them when they left home. Now, as they are raising children, the priority to reestablish the practice of their religion is becoming more important.


Generation Y or Millennials (1980-2000) – This generation is 32 to 12 years old.

Five Ways to Approach the Pluralistic Nature of Post-Modernity

Five Ways to Approach the Pluralistic Nature of Post-Modernity


  1. Highlight the inclusiveness and tolerance of the cross. We should be leading the way on these issues. Instead it feels like we’ve allowed secular liberals to champion an agenda that God has always expected his people to lead.
    1. Focus on issues related to legal tolerance – “represent and protect all people.”
      1. Isaiah 56:1
      2. Micah 6:8
      3. Deuteronomy 14:29
      4. Proverbs 31:8-9
      5. Luke 4:18-19
    2. Focus on issues related to social tolerance – “love and respect all people.”
      1. Matthew 5:44
      2. 1 Peter 2:17
      3. Luke 15:1-2


  1. Clarify the roots of exclusivism. Post-moderns need to see and understand the ancient nature of the exclusive claims of Christianity. Too often it is seen simply as an attachment to cultural superiority.
    1. While the seminal NT texts like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 cannot and should not be avoided, OT texts like Isaiah 43:10-12 provide a fresh way to approach the issue which helps post-moderns understand that Christian exclusivism is rooted in Scripture and not in human culture.


  1. Explore the basis for Christian exclusivism by highlighting what makes Christianity distinctive.
    1. The doctrines of incarnation, atonement and resurrection.
      1. Incarnation
        1. Logical – If Jesus was truly God in the flesh then his teachings come with divine authority.
        2. Emotional – The God of Christianity went to amazing lengths to be with you (highlighted by the manger and the cross). He wants to be with you in all seasons of your life. He walked through everything that you have walked through and can not only empathize, but also sympathize.
      2. Atonement – Almost every major world religion offers salvation based upon what we “do.” However, because of the atonement, Christianity offers salvation upon what Jesus has “done” on the cross.
      3. Resurrection – more than anything else, the resurrection provides a tangible reason to expectantly hope for heaven. If the resurrection is true then there really is life after death.


  1. Highlight the exclusive nature and claims of other faiths. If post-moderns want to reject Christianity because of it’s exclusivity then they need to understand that most world religions claim that they are, if not the only way, the best way to a relationship with God.


  1. Highlight the inadequacies of pluralism. Taken to its logical extreme, pluralism is untenable. It is not possible to practice pluralism in every facet of life.
    1. All religious practices and groups are not equal.
      1. Christian crusades, temple prostitution, Aztec human sacrifice demonstrate repugnant acts.
      2. Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Mercy are not equal to the Heaven’s Gate cult or David Koresh’s compound.
    2. All religions are not able to adequately respond to difficult questions and circumstances.
      1. Is there a God? Why am I here? Why did my child die? Pluralism says that all religions can answer these questions equally. This just isn’t true.
    3. Pluralism is inherently intolerant. Pluralism says that it’s always wrong to try to convince someone that his views are wrong. Pluralism affirms the truth of all viewpoints—except the viewpoint that says there is one absolute truth. Pluralism says there is no absolute truth—which is itself a statement of absolute truth.


Miscellaneous Matters



What do we do with the kids? That’s a great question that will ultimately be answered collectively by the entire group. The make-up of the group will factor heavily into the approach that is taken. Here are a few options that may be worth considering or that may generate other ideas. Each group should remember that, as they work through this together, that the children are a part of the family as well; and that this time could be made to be extremely enriching and formative for them.

      • Include the children in the entire meeting. This would be a good option with infants or young children who are able to sit and play quietly.
      • Include the children in a part of the meeting (i.e. food, worship, opening). Then have a separate bible study/meeting for the children. In this case the group members could rotate the responsibility of leading this so that no one has to miss out each week.
      • Hire a babysitter to provide care for the entire meeting. This may be an option for young children who are unable to be left alone or if the group chooses not to have a separate Bible study time. In this instance the parents could share in the cost of the sitter.
      • Have one week each quarter where the children are fully included and the time (bible study, worship, etc) is geared towards them.


Food and Fellowship

Do we have to eat a meal together? No, definitely not. But each meeting should have some beverages and snacks available. Sharing food together is a theme found throughout the Bible, and for good reason. For example, having a drink in hand or a plate full of snacks often serves a great security blanket for someone who might be anxious or not naturally good at conversation. Ultimately, sharing a meal with a person or group of people is one way that cultures have always demonstrated fellowship and togetherness. There is a great deal of theology involved here with the way that we share the Lord’s Supper with Christ and one another.
Each group will decide for themselves whether or not they will eat a meal together or just have drinks and snacks. This decision will depend on the time of the meeting and preferences of the group. Whichever choice is made, each group should remember that this is less about feeding hungry people and more about the strange way that a drink and a snack takes down walls and helps people to feel more comfortable.

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