At Heritage, we believe that ALL Christians are called to make disciples. We also believe that it is God's plan for us to live in community with other believers and that this is actually the best way for us to make disciples! Jesus said others would know we are Christians by our love for each other. It's that love, the love we show each other, that is so attractive to non-Christians and causes them to want what we have.
We desire everyone at Heritage to be a part of a Small Group. So what is a Small Group? Let's start with what it is NOT:
A Small Group is NOT primarily a:
-Bible Study :: although, we will study the Bible. People who study the Bible without mission know things about God but aren't living the life God is asking them to live. God has given us the power of His Holy Spirit, and you don't need the Holy Spirit just to read the Bible. In fact, non-Christians can read and even study the Bible. However, the Holy Spirit empowers us to live out and obey what we have learned through our Bible study. We can be active in small group Bible studies for our entire lives and yet be unfaithful to the scriptures we have learned by not living them out.
-Weekly Meeting :: although we will meet weekly but hopefully even more. We have to get rid of the dualistic thinking that is common in our churches. We ARE the church so everything we do counts. It's not separated into Sunday morning, Monday night, etc. We want people who are willing to realign their ENTIRE lives for the sake of the Gospel. Missional Communities meet officially once a week and unofficially throughout the week.
-Support Group :: although we will support each other. We are not together to just take care of each other's needs forever. In a healthy family, kids don't stay in the house when they are adults. They are trained up so they can start their own families. We want to support each other to grow up in Christ and eventually move on to be leaders of new groups.
-Social Activist Group :: although we will be servants. God does want us to do good things. We are given the "mandate" to care for the world and the things God created, but the "mission" is to make disciples. If we are all about doing good deeds we will miss the gospel and "disciple" people to good works instead of the grace of Jesus which is the Good News.
At Heritage, you will often hear us saying, "Growing, Sharing, Serving." It just so happens that this is also the focus for our Small Groups. We want all of our Small Groups to have a healthy balance of growing spiritually, sharing life together, and serving the world. Usually, groups tend to lean toward one or two of these and are therefore out of balance. Let me give you some examples:
1. Your average Bible Study :: Most churches’ Bible study groups or Sunday School programs fall into this category. These groups are high on growing spiritually or attaining Bible knowledge yet miss out on the community or sharing life together that God intended for us to live in. Because of this, many of these people tend to have secret sins, feel lonely, and/or become Pharisees (self-righteous, judgmental Christians). These groups also fall short on the missional lifestyle that Jesus commanded us to live out (serving the world). This is what James would call Dead Faith.
2. Your average Community Group :: Community Groups or Small Groups, tend to emphasize Sharing Life Together, but fall short in the Growing Spiritually and Serving The World. Most of these groups are affinity-based, closed groups that quickly turn inward in their focus. Although these groups are probably very honest and authentic, the participants usually don’t grow up in Christ through the study of His Word and by living it out on mission and therefore remain immature, baby Christians.
3. Your average Social Activist Group :: Groups like this seem to exist everywhere these days which means many Christians and non-Christians in this generation are committed to helping and serving others which is awesome! However, if the extent of the group is serving, then it is completely possible that the non-Christians will never hear the gospel (thus staying non-Christians) and the Christians will never grow up into Christ and become the people God is trying to mold them into. Like the first group, participants will also miss out on the sharing life together part and fall into the same pitfalls.
Growing, Sharing, Serving is key for ALL Small Groups. If you are involved in a group already, do a quick assessment (it should be obvious) to see if your group is balanced. If it is not, which parts are you missing and how can you go about including them. If you are thinking about starting a group, include all three from the beginning. It is harder to add-on later! Things that you include in your group from the beginning will become part of your group’s DNA.
So... a Small Group...
-Is centered on Jesus, helping people become and then grow as His disciples
-Has a defined mission of reaching a particular neighborhood or network of relationships
-Conducts worship, prayer and Scripture reading as core practices
-Gathers informally throughout the week, not just at formal meetings
-Has a healthy balance of Growing, Sharing, and Serving