Why Small Groups

By Steve Manskar

Wesleyan leadership small group ministry podcast 241x300
Trinity (Andrei Rublev). Public Domain.

“Thee, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Inexplicably One and Three,
As worshiped by the heavenly host,
Thy church on earth we worship Thee,
Three unconfounded Persons own,
One undivided God proclaim,
In essence, substance, nature One
Through all eternity the same.

(Charles Wesley in Hymns on the Trinity, #XLIV, page 125)

Why are small groups important? Why did John Wesley place so much confidence in them as dependable means of grace for developing faith and holiness? The answers to these questions begin with the subject of this Charles Wesley stanza from one of his hymns in praise of the Trinity.

This is important because human beings are created in the image of the Triune God,

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26a, 27).

The “image of God” means that human character is a reflection of God’s character. We are not exact replicas of God, but we are representations or likenesses of God. This means that human beings are relational creatures. God created us with the capacity to give and receive love. We are made for relationship with God, one another, and creation.

This doctrine tells us that God’s nature is revealed in the relationships within the Trinity: the Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the love of the Father and Son. Each person is unique in character and work. At the same time each person participates in the life and work of the others. The Three are One, united in and by love.

An excellent illustration of the relational nature of the image of God and its importance to human lives and communities is the southern African concept known as ubuntu that teaches:

I am because we are.

It means that I can only become fully me as long I am in relationship with you. Ubuntu is rooted in the belief that all people are created in the image of God and that fact determines our value, meaning, and potential. Ubuntu tells us that we cannot be fully human apart from community. We become fully the persons God created us to be only within the relationships made possible in community. Our relationship with God is shaped by our relationships with others whom God loves.

The relational nature human beings, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, is why the apostle Paul writes:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. … But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:1-3, 15-17).

He likens the church to the “body of Christ” and the “household of God.” Paul believed that Christians are made for community. Our love for God grows and matures through relationships with other Christians. Each part of the body contributes to and is dependent upon the others. This is why Jesus says to his disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20) and “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

When Christians meet in small groups to pray, study Scripture, for accountability and fellowship, and to serve the poor they form relationships of love and trust. As Christians grow in love and trust with one another, they grow in holiness of heart and life. They become disciples who make disciples. Such relationships are not likely to happen in large public settings like Sunday morning worship. This is why small groups are essential to the church’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.