Why Community Groups? [Part One]

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been able to work with two churches in a revamp of their discipleship structures. Both churches, one a plant and one an established church, are looking to introduce a Community Group structure similar to ours. Their questions are the sort of questions every healthy church should be asking — and re-asking. 

  • What is a disciple of Jesus? 

  • What does it mean to be a member of a church? 

  • What are we doing to provide opportunity and accountability to mature as a disciple of Jesus? 

  • How are we helping members be a faithful witness in the multiple layers of everyday life?

Some of the answers never change and others get adapted in different seasons, but we should never stop asking the questions. So what about for us? Why do we have Community Groups now that we’re four years in?

One of the first things I tell people, either with these leadership teams or in the Foyer, is that discipleship really comes down to the Bible in relationship. “Bible in relationship.” That’s it. Really. 

Why the Bible?

Romans 10:17 tells us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is a great missionary passage that propels evangelism to the unreached, but it also has implications for the everyday faith of veteran believers. We learn here that faith (like worship) is a response to revelation. We can only believe in Jesus if we’ve heard of Jesus, and in the same way, we can only grow in our believing Jesus if we keep hearing Jesus. 

The “word of Christ” that Paul mentions is the gospel message. He’s talking about the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1–5), and for us upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11), that gospel message is unfolded in the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture. We have the “whole counsel” of God from Genesis to Revelation, bearing the gospel message and showing us Jesus. So like the early church gave themselves to the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures and the apostles’ teaching (1 Timothy 4:13; Acts 2:42), which included an emerging Pauline corpus (Colossians 4:16), it makes sense for us to take “hearing the word of Christ” as congruent to “reading the Bible.”

We must hear the gospel to become a Christian. And we must read the Bible to grow as a Christian. The Bible, therefore, for this and a hundred more reasons, is indispensable for discipleship. 

And so is relationship. 

Why Relationships?

In his unsearchable wisdom, God has designed that his gospel be spread through people. It is gloriously inefficient, isn’t it? People believe the gospel by other people telling them the gospel. That is at least implicit in the Great Commission. Think about it for a minute. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is charting the course for how the new creation is going to ultimately overcome this present darkness. He will build his church; the gospel will be proclaimed to all nations — and how? By him ascending to reign, the Spirit descending to empower, and his people mandated to go. That’s what he says. “Go.” 

And going is inescapably relational. People like you and me, just regular folks indwelled by the Holy Spirit, go about our days speaking the hope of Jesus to the lost and living under his lordship with the redeemed. And when we do that together, the whole thing — the church and its parts — “builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Relationship is indispensable for discipleship.

So it’s the Bible in relationship. That’s the main thing. That’s ground zero. That is the Level One of what our Community Groups are trying to do.

I don’t mean that our groups are “Bible studies” — they’re not — but if all your group does is open the Bible together for half an hour, that’s still a good day, and it’s doing something. Christians are not made or grown without the Bible in relationship, and that will not happen without being deliberate. Community Groups are the intentional, organized setting to make a reality.

And there’s more to say. Stay tuned for Part Two in the New Year.