The Basics: 7 MARKS OF HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS

Fall Semester Has Launched!

Our groups are underway this fall, and in the midst of all the attention and excitement of the HEROES series, let’s take a quick but important look back at the basics of small groups: Why is participating in a small group one of the absolutely most important things we can do with our precious, God-given time?   

Pastor Rick Warren gives a good basic answer in this article, based on the single clearest description of small groups in New Testament narrative (Acts 2:42-47 – one of the “Daily Encounter” scriptures from the HEROES Welcome week), where he identifies 7 marks of healthy small groups

Examine whether your group is healthy in all seven areas; come up with your own ideas how to get them there:

7 MARKS OF HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS

Small Group

1. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS STUDY THE BIBLE

Small groups in the New Testament studied the Bible together.Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Of course, we know the teaching of the apostles is what we call the New Testament today. They lived in an oral culture, but they were still studying lessons from the apostles.

One thing you can do is have your small groups study what you taught the congregation on Sunday. At our church, Saddleback, we have a group of volunteers who create “Talk It Over” guides that we put online Sunday night. These can be printed out and used by small groups during the week. They include questions related to the Scriptures we studied in the weekend services, plus additional verses to consider.

The benefit of this is that it helps people focus on one Bible truth. Too often we teach too much. When I was growing up, I could go to church throughout the week and end up with as many as 13 different Bible studies. I started thinking, “My life can’t change that much.” Sometimes I think we teach too much, so something like the “Talk It Over” guide will allow your congregation to focus on one biblical truth a week.

2. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS SHARE LIFE TOGETHER

The Book of Acts says the early believers were devoted to fellowship (v. 42). This means they were serious about their friendships. Notice the text here says they were devoted to “the fellowship,” not just to “fellowship.” In other words, fellowship is not just an act the church does; we are the fellowship.

Jesus calls us to be committed to one another, and it is through small groups that we learn the skills of relationship. Small groups are laboratories of love, where we learn to obey the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

3. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS REMEMBER JESUS TOGETHER

The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). The “breaking of bread” in this passage specifically refers to Communion (or the Lord’s Supper). In the early Church, they did not take Communion in a large worship setting; they served it in small groups.

You will, of course, want to work within the tradition of your church, but at Saddleback we allow small groups to serve Communion. For one thing, Communion is only for believers, so a small group setting ensures only believers will take part.

4. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS PRAY TOGETHER

The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves to prayer (v. 42). Jesus taught that there is a power to prayers spoken aloud for each other, and he made an incredible promise about small groups of believers: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt. 18:20). In the intimacy and confidentiality of small groups, we can pray for each other as we share our hurts, reveal our feelings, confess our failures, disclose our doubts, admit our fears, acknowledge our weaknesses, and ask for help.  [For Lake City Small Groups, our goal from Pastor Jim is to pray a total of 20 minutes each meeting.]

5. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS ARE GENEROUS

The Bible says these small groups gave “to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). Small groups allow us to help each other with practical needs: “Can I loan you a car?” “Can I provide you with some meals when you are sick?”

We tend to centralize ministries, creating a food pantry or a counseling center. But this wasn’t the New Testament model. The early Church had decentralized ministries, so that’s what we try to do at Saddleback. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, one of our members met someone who had been in a bad situation and ended up homeless. She bought the homeless person a meal and then provided him with a bus ticket to where a sister lived.

The next day, the Saddleback member told me about it and said, “There are lots of homeless people. The Church should do something about it.” I said, “The Church just did.” The next Sunday, I got up and told the congregation, “I release you to assist the poor and feed the hungry and help the homeless.” There are small groups at Saddleback doing all kinds of ministry that I know nothing about. We’ve decentralized by giving them permission to engage in ministry as a small group.

6. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS WORSHIP TOGETHER

The Bible says the New Testament small groups worshiped together, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (v. 47 NIV). We need to worship God more than once a week, and small groups offer an opportunity to worship together. [For Lake City Small Groups, see the “Love God” section in our TOOLKIT, page 9.]

7. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS WITNESS TOGETHER

As these small groups met together, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). They were inviting others to join them. One of the proofs of a healthy small group is that it reproduces, so a small group may add members, but a small group may also help start another small group.

Small groups can be creative in outreach. For instance, one small group at Saddleback pooled their money and bought season tickets for the San Diego Chargers for everyone in the group, but they also bought some extra tickets. They go together to each game, but they also use the extra tickets to invite others to come with the group. They don’t start a Bible study at the game—they just have fun—but that allows them to say, “This same group meets on Tuesday nights for Bible study. Would you like to join us?”

To conclude, always remember our mission is to make disciples, and that happens in relationship. Read the previous couple posts for more about how that looks in Lake City Small Groups, specifically. 

Blessings on our groups, 

Pastor Reg

Communion in Small Groups – More than a Good Idea


The Bible says very little about how we are actually to go about observing communion, yet most Christians have strong preferences, if not convictions, about how to do it.  I want to expand your thinking in one area — observing communion regularly in your small group. As we will see,  this is more than just a good idea.

No Wafers and Juice Cups in the Bible

Most of us (assuming an audience which holds the “symbolic” view of communion) have observed communion primarily in corporate gatherings, with a short message and Bible reading from the pastor, followed by a collective ingesting of a wafer and a small plastic cup of grape juice. Let me say, I have no problem with the wafer and grape juice! Observing communion in this way has been a major part of my life’s spiritual formation. But my strengthening conviction is that small group members should observe communion together at least once per semester/term.

Here’s why:

At LCCC, we view small groups as not just another ministry or Bible study, but as the “church scattered,” in homes, throughout our community, engaging in directives of church which are not possible in a corporate setting: knowing, serving, loving, taking care of each other; digging in and applying Scriptures together; obeying the Great Commission together; having things in common; bearing each others’ burdens; and “being devoted to the breaking of bread and prayer”  (Acts 2:42-47).

Communion in the Bible most always centered around a meal, and small groups allow a better opportunity for that than anything else in the church.   At the Last Supper, Jesus effectively changed the Passover Meal into Christian Communion, and He strategically placed the observance of bread and wine within the course of this meal.  (Read more about that here.)

Is it wrong, then, for us to observe communion without a meal? Well, no. One of Christianity’s unique characteristics is the freedom Scripture gives regarding church polity and practices; freedoms which enable Christian churches to thrive and transform culture anywhere, at any time, on the planet. Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul does allude to the bread and cup without a meal (10:16-17) and in chapter 11 even tells them to STOP the meal because they were abusing it! So, the meal is not required, nor should it replace the Lord’s Supper as the focus of our gathering.

But, would it be appropriate; constructive; healthy for us to observe communion more as the New Testament Church did – as part of a relational, worshipful meal together? That is the more important question. And I believe the answer is a most definite YES!

Guidelines for Leading Your Small Group in Communion

So, to help you lead your group in communion this very semester, here are some guidelines for leaders or any spiritually mature member of a small group who wishes to lead.

1.  Don’t be intimidated by this! You are already viewed as a “shepherd leader,” and this is one of the most significant and joyous acts Jesus gave us to do together.

2.  Spend some time in the communion passages (Matt. 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 10:15-22; 11:17-34, and many others if you want to study the significance of the Passover, its link to Jesus’ sacrifice and blood, and the biblical rules for it.)

3. Use other resources from books, websites, etc. There are tons of good resources out there. I’ll give you a couple of mine:

First, as a kind of template for you, here on a Word document is the communion manuscript from my recent sermon on Philippians 3:13-14 – Communion Manuscript from sermon – What to Remember, What to Forget

Second, from the engaging little book, Going to Church in the First Century, which I have given to all of our small group leaders, below is a copy of the pages which I used to lead my own group in communion just a couple weeks ago.

After explaining the premise of this book – the observations of a young man on his first visit to a house church – I passed around the elements and read the following pages, followed by the 1 Corinthians 11 verses. We then “ate” and “drank” in celebration of the gospel as part of our meal together. It was a fun and worshipful experience.  If this appeals to you, I encourage you to try it at your group’s next meal together!

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FROM PAGES 19-21 – THE BREAD:

            Before we began to eat, however, Aquila took up a cob of bread which his wife had laid on the table before him, and said he would like to give thanks. Instead of offering part of the bread to their god, Aquila reminded the people present that their god had offered something for them instead. His only son, no less, who died that they might live.

            ‘Just before he sacrificed himself for us,’ he went on to say, ‘he took part in a meal with his followers just like the one we’re having now. During this meal he shared around bread and told them that it represented him. Just as they needed bread in order to live physically, so, even more, they needed him if they were to experience real life. And so do we. This is why he wants us to continue having meals together and this is why we are meeting together today.’

            Just how a dead person was going to do all this wasn’t at all clear to me. But then Aquilawent on to say that after this person was executed, he’d actually come to life again. I could hardly believe my ears, I can tell you, but that’s exactly what he said! He’d gone to his father after death and this put him in a position where he could share his life with anyone who followed him, wherever they were and no matter how many there were of them. A bit of him living in each of them, so to speak, or at least that’s how I understood it.

            ‘This means,’ continued Aquila, ‘that although he isn’t physically with us in the room, he is nevertheless really present among us. As we eat the meal together, beginning with this bread’ (which he was now breaking into substantial portions and passing among the guests) ‘we’ll experience him directly within ourselves, as well as through our fellowship with one another as we eat.’

            He concluded all this with a brief prayer, if you could call it that. For it was made up on the spot so far as I could tell, and spoken in quite a normal voice. In it he thanked his god for all this and told him how much we looked forward to the meal and everything that went with it. Then he sat down to a chorus of ‘yes’, ‘indeed’, ‘amen’ and the like and began to eat.

FROM PAGE 35 – THE CUP:

            At this point we were interrupted by Lysias who, at Aquila’s signal, had begun to refill the cups at our table. Felix was doing the same at the other. Aquila then took his cup in both hands and said:

            ‘The wine that we’ve been drinking has been part of our meal and a help to our fellowship in the Lord. But it means more than this. For, as Jesus explained, it reminds us that he is the one who has created this bond through his death. It also stands as a promise to us of the fellowship we shall have one day with him when we sit down at his table and dine with him face to face. So as we drink this cup together, let us take these things to heart and be grateful for them, looking back with appreciation on the one and looking forward with anticipation to the other. And may our meetings express that oneness that we have with him more and more so that they are, as it were, a little taste of heaven on earth.’

            In this spirit we all drank. 

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However the Holy Spirit directs you, I pray that observing the Lord’s Supper with your small group will become a pivotal moment in your life together — one that you will repeat regularly, in remembrance of Jesus.

Blessings on your homes,

Pastor Reg