Are Small Groups Biblical?

The contemporary church (irrespective of denomination) has seen a legitimate need to minister to individuals outside of the usual Sunday Service and Sunday Schools. This comes from a realization that a mass gathering does not often reflect the mentoring requirements for individual Christian growth and accountability. The Bible makes clear that we are to study the scripture and be accountable in community (for example Acts 17:11). But a large group can easily stifle more intimate sharing and questioning.

In our time, this rational for smaller group mentoring and fellowship has often been unconsciously melded with the theories and assumptions of secular and New Age psychology surrounding personal growth, self esteem, group dynamics and the individual entitlement of man. Not that these areas of study do not yield results for society, but they are frequently not based upon biblical principles and make very different assumptions about the status of man in creation. They are, at their root, completely at odds with Biblical values based upon the absolute sovereignty of God.

Secular values are predominantly post-modern. They have a relative value structure, assuming that all truth is relative (either socially or individually), and that every individual is entitled to self-drive actualization. Many congregants operate unconsciously from a mindset which selectively uses these values, with each set given almost equal weight or the post-modern more weight.

This is completely at odds with the Biblical truth of a sovereign God, His absolute universal laws, and individual responsibility to precepts beyond individual entitlement of any sort.

Put more practically (and to use the biblical analogy of Isaiah 29:16 very loosely), society see the clay as entitled to a hearing and compliance from the potter, while the biblical truth of creation is precisely the opposite. with the potter having completely independent and sovereign control over the clay, owing it nothing whatsoever (Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:4).

Why does this matter? It matters because the view point that current small group ministry grows from determines whether it can fill the need that the formal church does not, that of the smaller integrated fellowship described in the early church (see Gathering in the Beloved).

So, we have something of a quandary. Does the present small group structure in most churches address the Biblical proscription modeled in the early church gatherings – one based on wholly biblical precepts?

Let me also close this post by pointing out that this discussion does not discount the many wonderful benefits of fellowship in current groups. The question is whether they address the biblical model and any regulative principle that it implies, since all biblical principles are by definition important.