Community

This fall we are revamping the small group ministry at Grace Bible Church.  For the past year some small groups met in our church but were not organized by the elders or the staff.  We focused our energies on Sunday morning core seminars, worship, and neighborhood prayer meetings instead.

The prayer meetings turned out, for the most part, to be a dud.  Only a couple still met by the end of May.  Core seminars will continue, but as they are lecture-based it’s become clear to the staff we need to do more to encourage avenues for friendship and fellowship at Grace.

Therefore, beginning this fall, we will add more small groups under the Grace Bible Church umbrella.  Some will be traditional community groups, others will be single-sex Bible studies, others will focus on college students, while still others will be missions- or recovery-minded.

All the groups will involve getting to know other people and being known by them, prayer, and some form of Bible study (either sermon-based questions or working through a passage like this).  We will list the times and places these groups meet to make it easy for those not in a group to find them.  If someone has a hard time finding a group that fits their schedule, the staff will help you find one that works for you.  If necessary, we’ll try and start one for you (though you may have to lead it!).

But what if a member doesn’t want to be in a group?  The staff and elders will, lovingly, push back on your reluctance, and we’ll use one of the following five reasons as we do.

First, it’s biblical.  We read that in the early church, “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 2:46.  Skyler Flowers is preaching on 1 Thessalonians 2:8 tomorrow, which reads, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”

The New Testament pattern for the Christian life wasn’t just to show up for “worship” and then go home.  It meant believers opening up their lives to one another and growing together in the Lord and in love.

Second, like it or not, you are a product of your community.  “No man is an island.”  People are shaped by those around them.  You are keeping some kind of company already and they are forming you right now, for good or bad.  This remains true no matter how old you get.

And even if you think you’re okay and don’t need anyone else (which is not true), have you ever considered that perhaps others, not as put together as you are, might need you in their life?

Third, isolation kills.  Last year The Boston Globe reported that study after study “has shown that those who were more socially isolated were much more likely to die during a given period than their socially connected neighbors, even after you corrected for age, gender, and lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right.  Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s.  One study found that it can be as much of a long-term risk factor as smoking.  The research doesn’t get any rosier from there. In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent.”

Over and over I hear the complaint from people new to Oxford that they have a harder time connecting with others in this town than any other they’ve lived in.  And over and over I’ve seen people attend on Sunday mornings at Grace, get a lot out of the experience, but fail to get connected and then move on to another church.  For the good of the people of Grace Bible, and for the health of the church as an institution, vibrant and committed small group life is a necessity.

Fourth, your pastors and elders cannot do their job without you in a small group.  1 Peter 5:1-2 says, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers …”  Ultimately church leaders are called not only to teach the Bible and govern the affairs of the church but are to know how each one of our “sheep” is doing.

But it’s impossible for the limited number of elders at Grace to be around the almost three hundred members enough to know how each one is doing.  As we revamp our small group ministry this fall, we are building in a “shepherding” component so that we can, in a loving, biblical way, know how each member is doing.

Perhaps you’re already in a healthy small group, just not one organized by Grace Bible.  If so, great.  I’m not saying you can only grow in your walk with the Lord in a Grace Bible small group.  I am saying it will be difficult for the elders to oversee and care for you if you aren’t.

Fifth, the best evangelism takes place in community. Francis Chan recently recalled a sobering moment he had while serving as the pastor at Cornerstone Church.  Chan said he baptized a kid from a gang, but the kid later left the church even though he had gotten quite involved.

Chan said, “One of my friends asked him, ‘Hey, how come you’re not at Cornerstone anymore?’  He said, ‘I didn’t understand church.  When I was baptized, I thought it was going to be like being in the gang where it’s like 24/7 they’re my family, but I didn’t know it was just somewhere we attend on Sundays.’”  Ouch.  Rosaria Butterfield says that among the gay community in Syracuse, New York (of which she was a part before she became a Christian), it was known that at least one home was open every night of the week to those seeking food and fellowship.

If all we have to offer people is one hour of corporate worship each week, our evangelism (literally, “good newsing”) rings hollow to those interested in the faith.  The church in the New Testament is called the family of God.  The gospel is not only that we are saved from hell, but that we are saved into a new, loving, caring community.  Jesus said, “29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”  Luke 18:29-30.

We must connect our gospel messaging with gospel community, as the best evangelism will bring those people into the life of the family of God at an intimate level (i.e., a small group in a home) so they can see for themselves the love produced by gospel community.  Then our evangelism can “stick.”

Please pray for and be involved in the small group life at Grace Bible Church as we make these changes in the coming weeks.

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