Most weeks – barring a monthly prayer meeting or a quarterly members’ meeting – our church hosts community groups. These usually meet in homes. But what are they, what do we do at them and why do we do them?
The reason we run community groups is that we think it is a good opportunity for bible input and fellowship in a different context and setting. Whilst we think the weekly preaching of the Word is vital, and we run a weekly morning bible study prior to our Sunday meeting, we still think there are other ways to get into the Word. Our preaching is more didactic teaching, our Theology Breakfast – though more interactive – are still focused primarily on teaching put. Our community groups are different in that the teaching we have already received on Sunday is more openly discussed to think through how we specifically apply that teaching to the lives of those in our group.
Another reason we host a community group is that they aim at more than just bible study. We have other opportunities where the bible is taught and heard. We still want to use community groups for this. But both the setting and the structure are aimed more at fellowship and pastoral care. So, alongside our time in the Word, we eat and pray together; we share a meal and we share points for prayer and we ensure that we are actively and meaningfully praying for one another. This combination of sharing meals and praying for one another mean we find out much more about what is going on in one another’s lives than we would if we only turned up to church on a Sunday. The setting, the focus and the approach are all setup to encourage meaningful fellowship and sharing in one another’s lives.
Of course, our sharing in one another’s lives isn’t intended to stop at community group. The community group is really just setting a pattern for further fellowship between church members. Just as we eat together, pray together and apply the scriptures into our lives together so we want members to take those ideas and simply do them together with other members apart from the group. We want our members to invite one another to their homes – or meetup outside the home informally – to be willing and able to ask for and offer prayer for one another and to be thinking about the scriptures that have been taught and apply them into one another’s lives. The community groups are designed, in part, to be a springboard to this sort of thing.
So, the structure of our community groups is fairly simple. We get together at about 7pm and we eat together. One of us prepares a meal for the rest of the group and we spend 45 minutes eating, chatting, sharing and just hanging out. At 7:45 we break into two smaller, single-sex groups to pray. We ask everybody to share at least one point for praise and one point they would like prayer about and then we seek to pray for everything that is shared. By 8:15, we come back together as a whole group, we reiterate in a couple of minutes the main points of the sermon from Sunday and the key points of application. Then, starting with those points of application, we run through a series of questions designed to apply those points more directly and specifically to those of us in the group. We want to encourage our members to be thinking not just about what the scriptures mean, but specifically how they apply to them and how they might apply them to the life of the church. We usually wrap up around 9pm.
The idea behind the groups is that we are enjoying some fellowship over food together – just like Jesus and his Apostles seemed to do throughout the gospels and the early church after them. We are praying for one another, and asking each other about what is going on so that we can meaningfully care for each other as a church. There are certainly things that come out of this time that we simply would not know if we never had it. We are then trying to encourage our members to not just think about the biblical text and the sermons they hear in a dry, intellectual way, but to think how the Word of God – which is living and active – specifically applies to them, to the church and to the reality of things as they are in our lives.
Of course, as I have said before (and you can search this site for specifics), community groups are not in the Bible. They are not a three line whip for anybody to attend. But I am convinced they are more helpful than not. They encourage what is more helpful than not. I think those who commit to them gain far more than those who don’t. They accomplish a number of things that are biblical and seems like a helpful way to do some of the things that Jesus does want us, as his people, to be about. That is why we do them in the way that we do.