There are various definitions of a small group. Here are a couple examples:
- “A small group within the church is a voluntary, intentional gathering of three to 12 people regularly meeting together with the shared goal of mutual Christian edification and fellowship.”1
- “A small group is an intentional, face-to-face gathering of three to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the abundant life of Christ.”2
Some definitions ignore the important element of outreach. I have attended nationwide small group training events in which small groups were seen as primarily for nurture, while outreach was ignored. This is a serious error. Outreach is implied in Acts 2:46, 47, which speaks of the house-to-house activity of the disciples followed by new accessions to the faith.
Ellen White also states that small groups are for both outreach and nurture: “The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members but for unbelievers also” (Evangelism, p. 115).
Let me share with you a definition of a small group that I believe incorporates all the necessary elements: A small group is an intentional, face-to-face gathering of three to 12 people, meeting on a regular schedule, with the common purpose of developing relationships, meeting felt needs of group members, growing spiritually, and laying plans to lead others to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. As you can see, these criteria fit nicely into the plans for Sabbath School classes as well.
Four relationships are key to a successful small group:
- God-to-person: The group focuses on what God wants to happen to the members individually and on being sensitive to His touch in their lives.
- Person-to-God: Group members must be aware of the Holy Spirit touching the lives of group members so they can be supportive.
- Person-to-person: As they grow in the Spirit, members will pray for each other, help with personal needs, be more understanding and forgiving, and desire for others to have the same experience.
- Person-to-world: A group cannot be spiritually whole and not reach out to others beyond the circle. This is one critical factor in the success of a group.
Will such an approach work? Let me share a story about a friend of mine who visited a small group. Members were studying Bible prophecy and had Christians and seekers (people who haven’t accepted Jesus) attending. During the meeting it was obvious that Martha, one of the non-Christians, did not understand the Bible study. At the end of the meeting, my friend was talking with Martha. She told him that she was going to become a Christian and join the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
He was curious because he knew Martha did not understand the prophecy in Daniel 9 that the group had just studied. My friend questioned Martha about her understanding of the teachings of the Adventist church. She responded: “There are some things I don’t understand. But those that I do understand I know are true. Once I continue to study and understand that which is not clear to me, I know I will find it biblical, because everything I have understood so far is rooted in Scripture. Besides, these people love me; they are my family.”
This is what small groups within the Adventist church are all about!
Certain types of groups are outreach groups by their design and purpose. Other groups, such as Christian prayer groups and book-reading groups, may need to formulate an outreach strategy or project in order to keep their group healthy and to fulfill the scriptural mandate.
- Neal McBride, How to Lead Small Groups, p. 24.
- Roberta Hestenes, class lecture, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1986.
© 2006 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists