Luke writes, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Long before church buildings and programs, the church met in the homes of believers. These small groups were the building blocks of the New Testament church age. In our day of “high tech” ministry and progressive outreach efforts, is it possible that the church has lost its roots? Could something that was done by the ancient church work in the contemporary church? Is there something that the early church knew that we have overlooked? The answer to all three of these questions is yes.
We attend seminars about how to increase church attendance, how to streamline ministry or engage millennial’s with the life-changing message of the gospel. While there is nothing wrong with these types of ministry strategies, it is possible that we have overlooked a basic foundation: small groups. If we look at Acts 2:42, we can see a clear pattern emerge.
1. The Apostles taught. No doubt this involved teaching about the Kingdom of God and the message of Christ. Today, we could say, “The small group devoted themselves to studying the Bible.” And it was upfront in the verse, so it was an important dynamic of the early church. The key to small group ministry is the study of the Scriptural text. From studying the Bible, spiritual growth begins to take place.
2. Fellowship. The word “fellowship” (κοινωνία) refers to people in close association to one another. There was a sense of closeness among the early believers. And of course, the common bond was salvation in Christ. Small groups not only afford Christians the opportunity to grow in their spiritual journey, but we grow closer together in community. Unfortunately, today we have lost the context of community. Therefore, small group ministries seek to recover what has been lost and to reconnect with fellow believers.
3. Breaking bread. The early church shared meals together. One of the greatest means for bonding believers together is by having a meal. I remember being in a preaching class in 1999. Our professor, Dr. Knute Larson, one day instructed us to go to the conference room and leave our books in the class room. When we walked down to the conference room, we were greeted with several boxes of pizza. We were instructed to enjoy the pizza and drinks. After about 20 minutes of light discussion and fellowship, the professor said, “Let’s discuss preaching.” The normal one hour class went on for two and half hours. I believe we grew more in that one event than we did over many hours of class time. Meals are important!
4. Prayer. This might shock you, but the word “prayers” (προσευχή) is not difficult to understand. The word simply means to speak to God or ask God for something. No doubt these early believers spent time together and with God. I can envision these believers sitting around the dinner table just talking to God. Maybe prayers for health, direction or help in some area of life. Prayer is the foundation for life and ministry. And the early church knew it and practiced it regularly.
In closing, we can recapture some of the early church by creating small groups. I would encourage every member of our congregation to begin praying about starting a small group ministry. I developed a seven week training program for those who are interested.