Developing small group ministry in the local church is vital to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23)” and churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus” and inward-focused groups die. As Phil Zambaro explains, “Loneliness is the most devastating illness of our day [and] I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is [also] no more destructive influence on the physical and mental health than isolation… [Because,] our hunger for relationships is an identifying mark of our humanity.” This need for relationships and connectivity makes the role of small groups a fundamental part of any successful church.
PRIMARY PASSAGES THAT FORM A SMALL GROUP MINISTRY
Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). One’s primary reason for wanting to develop any small group ministry must then be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. The sad reality is many so-called followers of Christ have reduced the Great Commission to nothing more than the great suggestion. However, this command from God points to the small groups as being the perfect environment to develop and train disciples. The early church is a prime example of doing life together. In Acts, chapters one and two, specifically (Acts 2:41-47,) the reader becomes aware of the DNA of early small group ministry. These home churches met together, studied the apostles teaching, shared meals together, met each other’s needs, prayed together, had favor with the local people, and went everywhere proclaiming the good news of the gospel. These early churches understood the importance of every person having a role to play in the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 12:21) and the necessity of serving one another. The final passage that illustrates role of small groups is (Ephesians 4:16.) Here, Paul explains how some followers of Christ are: apostles, prophets, shepherds, teachers, or evangelists, but how each of their primary duties is to train and equip God’s people for the work of the church. The ultimate goal is for believers to grow into the fullness of Christ, as each member of the body contributes to this growth, but it is small groups, which provide the optimal context and environment for this process to take place.
PRINCIPLES DERIVED FROM SCRIPTURE
In the Great Commandment, Dempsey demonstrates, “Jesus took 619 rabbinical laws and pharisaical practices and reduced them down to two simple principles: Love God and love your neighbor.” Dempsey then demonstrates the necessity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.” Earley and Dempsey further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. Jesus Himself was a small group leader, so Dempsey and Earley raise a very relevant question: “If Jesus, the Son of God, chose to strategically minister to a small group, how much more should you and I?”
Jeff Tunnell illustrates, “By sorting out one’s biblical values, [this] will lead to principles and conducts that glorify God and His ways, which ultimately make the Gospel irresistible to some and repulsive to others.” By using the Bible as authority, prayer as a means, dependency upon God as one’s posture, and love as the primary motive, Tunnell reveals multiple principles that are consistent with the truth of the gospel. As a result of embodying and devoting oneself to this truth, Tunnell shows followers were devoted to: following the Apostles’ teaching, fostering unity, sharing meals, practicing prayer, corporate worship, celebrating communion, living in community, and sharing generously, [resulting in,] salvations and favor with all the people.
As Jeffrey Arnold expounds, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships” and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups. Hospitality was one of the major things Jesus was known for; in fact, He set the standard. Jesus is repeatedly seen dining and visiting with outcasts. Joel Comiskey explains, “Most of the ancient world regarded hospitality as a moral practice… [And,] eating together in the household was one of the primary ways to share life together as well as to welcome strangers and those outside the household. Most would agree that sharing a meal is the second most intimate encounter one can engage in outside of the bedroom, which is why sharing meals together is such an important principle for small groups. When Jesus chose to send His disciples out in pairs, this approach showed He knew it was not good to be alone, especially in ministry. Comiskey explains when the disciples entered a home, “They were supposed to convert the members of that particular household, and reach the other homes from a base location – rather than witnessing from house-to-house (Luke 10:7). Remaining in a house only makes sense if, beyond the initial proclamation of the kingdom message, the messengers stayed on to further nurture and establish a faith community.” This strategy led to households being converted to Christ and new home churches being formed
At the heart of the Great Commission is the commandment to make disciples and this instruction is why Bill Hull emphasizes, “The small group is the most strategic training environment used by Christ to make the kind of disciples that glorify God.” Dempsey and Earley further illustrate, “We think of Jesus as Teacher and Healer. We learn from Him as Leader. We try and emulate His as example, [so is it] not about time we began to study and follow Him as Small Group Leader?” Small groups are vital to the future success of the local church and as a small group leader, he or she is essentially engaging in the same ministry Christ Himself was committed to. Small groups have the potential to change lives and there are multiple breakthroughs that will happen in small groups, but rarely happen within the four walls of the church, as Chuck Swindoll illustrates, “[In small groups,] fences come down, masks come off, welcome signs are hung outside the door, keys to the doors of our lives are duplicated and distributed, and joys and sorrows are shared.” Small group ministry is the biblical model Christ lived out and it is what He is calling His bride to embody today.
Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.
Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.
Dempsey, Rod. “Biblical Foundations.” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 7:58. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196586_1 (accessed May 22, 2017).
________. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).
Donahue, Bill and Russ Robinson. Building a Church of Small Groups. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.
House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.
Hull, Bill. Jesus Christ Disciple Maker. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984.
Swindoll, Chuck. Dropping Your Guard. Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983.
Tunnell, Jeff. “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.” Joel Comiskey Group Website. http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).
 Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).
 Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Building a Church of Small Groups (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 24.
 Rod Dempsey, “Biblical Foundations,” Filmed , Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 7:58. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196586_1 (accessed May 22, 2017).
 Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group.”
 Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 26.
 Jeff Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles,” Joel Comiskey Group Website, http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).
 Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.”
 Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), 235.
 Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 27.
 Chuck Swindoll, Dropping Your Guard (Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983), 22.