When my wife and I and our two sons attended an indy fundy church back in the 1980s, the worship service schedule, typical of many other evangelical/fundamentalist churches at the time, went like this:
Sunday School: 9-10 a.m.
Worship Service: 10-11 a.m.
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m.
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m. Many churches often referred to this mid-week service as a “Bible study” although at our church it was the exact same format as the Sunday morning and evening worship services.
It was somewhat expected that a committed church member would attend all four services.
Back then, I hadn’t heard of such a thing as a “small group.” Frankly, there was no time for a small group meeting during the week given the above church schedule. Just about everyone in that 150-member congregation was on a first-name basis anyway with all that contact. Well, we left that church and I subsequently walked away from the Lord for many years but when I returned to Him a couple of years ago I found the church landscape had changed quite a bit. For many churches, especially the increasingly popular mega-churches, the worship service schedule consists of a single Sunday morning service. Period. There’s no Sunday School or Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services. Large churches offset the impersonal environment of their single Sunday service with mid-week small group meetings where members can disciple and support each other in a much more personal setting.
About fifteen months ago, we began attending a non-denominational mega-church (with Baptist roots) and we initially appreciated the anonymity afforded by such a setting. We could nod hello, shake a few hands, worship the Lord in song, hear the sermon, and leave. No muss, no fuss. We didn’t “bother” anyone and no one “bothered” us. After a couple of “sour” experiences at our previous churches, my wife and I had pledged several times to each other that we would never again be in anyone’s back pocket when it came to church, even though we knew our preferred anonymous, arms-length relationship with others in the congregation wasn’t Biblical.
Our new church regularly encourages people to join a small group. The idea began to appeal to me but I wasn’t going to bring it up to my wife. If the Lord wanted us to join a small group, He would work it out. A couple of months ago, a person at church caught us before we could make our getaway and asked if we were members of a group. She turned out to be a group leader and invited us to join. My wife confessed she had been agreeable to joining a group but, like me, wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. All I can say is the Lord MUST have a sense of humor
Since joining our 18-member group (quite a bit larger than the “optimum” 12) we’ve shared a meal at a restaurant, did some Christmas caroling at a nursing home, and attended the first meeting of the new semester last week. At the meeting, we discussed the previous Sunday’s sermon and what it meant in our lives followed by the men and women splitting up into separate groups for prayer. My wife and I are slowly getting to know everyone and we’re already receiving blessings. Christianity isn’t living life in an isolation booth, it’s reaching out to the lost with the Gospel and it’s also reaching out to brothers and sisters in Christ and allowing them to reach out to you.
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45.
The bottom line for groups and everything else in the life of a believer: The focus should be on Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord! He will never disappoint.
Postscript: I looked up the history of the concept of small groups at church and found smatterings of information here and there. Small church groups have been popular for decades so, once again, I’m late to the party. It would make sense that large churches would incorporate small groups to complement the large, impersonal Sunday service.