I Will Grow Together with Others by Rick Burdette (With special credit to Thom Rainer and his book “I Will”)
I WILL – “I Will” Grow Together with Others
Acts 2:46 (pg. 759) October 18, 2015
About 15 years ago I was walking down the hallway at Fern Creek Christian Church on a Wednesday night and I ran into a guy I’d never met before…I’m not sure of the entire conversation, but I remember saying, “Hey, how’s it going, my name is “Rick.” And this guy responded, “Hey, my name’s Stan.”
And instantly I knew he wasn’t from New York or New Jersey…He was a “hick” like me. I laughed and said, “Where you from?” and He said, “West Virginia, but I’ve been livin’ in Dayton Ohio for the last several years.” I said, “I’ve ministered in Beckley West Virgina and loved those folks…what part of WV are you from and he said, “Charleston.”
Funny how friendships start, huh? I mean real friendships that go way beyond “just knowing each other.” They’re not relationships that you can manufacture. You have to really like each other and have a bond that unites you. And usually that bond will have to survive some painful tests.
Stan and my friendship survived our children being married and then going through a divorce. We both just decided our friendship wasn’t going to stop…it didn’t. We’ve buried parents together, lifted each other up through surgeries and parenting…and I’m not sure which one is more painful.
But what bonded us together was the grateful hearts of a redeemed alcoholic and a redeemed pot-head. A love for a Savior that saved us both from the “uttermost” glued us together…and still does…but my favorite part of our friendship is that Stan is driven to share his salvation with people…to open his heart to a community…a group…we prayed together for a Hispanic ministry…God sent just the right person after 2 years and the assimilation was beautiful…He began one of our first new classes…an open Sunday School that welcomed hurting and new folks…He became a point person with me on an outreach team…and served with me as a deacon and then an Elder…Stan would often say to me and to our small group leaders…the 2 purposes of the Church…“Win the lost…Disciple the saved.”
The point is, Stan and my friendship has always been about loving each other so we could care about the community…the group…and those who weren’t part of it yet.
But something has happened in our communities we call Church. To see the problem we need to go back about 2,000 years ago.
I. CHURCH LIFE PAST, AND PRESENT
Last week we talked about corporate worship, and how powerful it is to connecting us as a spiritual family…but what about smaller groups…where we can connect more honestly and intimately?
Acts 2:46 says “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house.”
The two contexts where these early believers met and worshipped were in a large group in the temple courts (all the believers were together) and in smaller groups in their homes…It wasn’t one or the other…it was “BOTH.”
The large group worship celebrated God…connected the entire believing community to Jesus…around His table…in His Word…corporate worship was the launch pad for the coming week…but the smaller groups allowed for life to be shared daily…houses became Christian life connectors…shared struggles…shared praises…shared questions…shared meals.
Fast forward to the present, where for many, Church becomes a place you go…and your daily life has very little to do with it. And the effects of this are staggering!
[Thom Rainer has a research project report in his book “High Expectations” where hundreds of Church members who had joined the church 5 years earlier were tracked…the factor that was used to reveal the most telling result was “Those members who only attended worship services and those who also shared their lives in a smaller group. The church members who became involved in a smaller group as well as attending worship services were 5 times more likely to be active in their faith than those who didn’t. 5 times! (They did not include those who moved to another community, became incapacitated or died in the drop out category).
I had to check the results a second time. They were astounding. More than 83 percent of those who joined and were involved in a small group were still active in the churches. But only 16 percent of those who attended worship services only remained in the churches five years later.
I have led a lot of research projects, and I have read even more. But these results were some of the most surprising and most amazing I have ever seen.]
There are four primary reasons that growing in a smaller group like Sunday School, Life Groups, home groups or ministry groups keep us connected by a factor of 5…First:
1. THE FRIENDSHIP FACTOR
You remember my friend Stan Holstein in the introduction? Do you know why we’re still friends after a decade and a half? We established a strong relationship because we were in the same groups.
Not only did we see each other most weeks, but we had fun together, served together, went on mission trips with each other…we connected.
The hard truth is if you are not willing to be in a smaller group you are not really willing to be connected to the body of Christ…at best you are a marginal church attender…It means you are not willing to grow spiritually together with other Christians. And if you think Lone Ranger Christianity is acceptable to God, you need to read your New Testament again.
It’s time for revival…and time for millions of Christians to remember the “house to house” aspect of connecting relationally with a group.
The 2nd factor of why smaller groups are essential to us growing together in Christ is
2. THE MINISTRY FACTOR
The truth is you cannot really love someone you don’t know…you can be attracted to someone…maybe even “like” that person’s personality if you’ve met them…but ministry at least within the Church, is more likely to take place with people who know each other well…and the primary way we can get to know each other well is smaller groups.
It is a New Testament precedent that every adult group act as a church within the Church. I promise you when “all the believers” were together in the Temple, the “all” couldn’t know and care for each individual’s needs…whether it was widows being left out in the daily distribution of food, or “Isaiah’s” injury at work…This is true whether it’s 3,000 or 300. It wasn’t that the Apostles didn’t care about hungry widows, but that the first servants “deacons,” were set apart in a smaller group…it was so the body of Christ could function in a healthy way…Listen:
ACTS 6:1-7 (p. 762)
Jesus didn’t design his body so that its leaders do all the ministry…He designed the Church so that Holy Spirit filled and led servants are recognized by its leaders and set apart…a ministry of all believers creates disciples who make disciples.
This outward focus is what keeps smaller groups from becoming cliques…when an adult house to house group or Sunday School class adopts a single mom and her children or a family that’s out of work, the gospel can permeate the world and the number of disciples can increase rapidly…and daily.
Also when “our own” are hurting…if someone has lost a job or encountered sickness…that smaller group can overwhelm them with love and grace…it seems to be how Pastoral Care works best according to the New Testament. It’s why Galatians 6:9-10 says:
GALATIANS 6:9-10 (p. 813)
Good is what we do…not what we are…and smaller groups have opportunity to plant seeds of goodness inside and outside the Church…and the harvest we reap is lost people and growing believers.
There’s also a 3rd benefit to smaller groups:
3. THE TEACHING FACTOR
We can learn through preaching…Paul says when “he preached the gospel in Troas, the Lord opened a door for him.” (2 Cor. 2:12) I believe preaching is a powerful way to communicate God’s truth…a door opener for lost people and disciples committed to growth as well…We can also learn from the bible in our own personal study time…but the most common way to study God’s Word is in a smaller group…interacting with others who are studying the same scripture.
[Most of us struggle with many of the same things so when a loving teacher of God’s Word helps us dig into questions and discussions we grow…and we realize we’re not alone in our biblical journey.]
I love the Scripture from Proverbs 27:17 which says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I know it’s true for this man…I learn from others…I’m encouraged by others…I’m challenged by others…I’m held accountable by others…Groups matter.
The final essential reason smaller groups matter is:
4. THE EVANGELISM FACTOR
Not every single smaller group is evangelistic…but any group can be.
[Becky invited me to this weird guy’s apartment behind Champs Rollerdome for what she called “Bible Rap.” Sounds dated today but I was in the middle of searching for something…my life was a mess…and in this little efficiency apartment there was a group of kids my age. We did stupid stuff like eat really “hot” stuff and play stupid games (which I loved) but this weird guy with a weird name…Brewster…loved us…and I felt a part of it…when we studied the Bible I felt God speaking…and when I had questions I had a place for answers…and on January 17, 1978 I was baptized into Christ…in large part because of this group, it’s leader…and how God worked after I became a part of it.]
Any small group can be evangelistic! If it has this kind of purpose.
Smaller groups matter because “The health of the whole Church is tied directly to these groups. It’s how we grow in community with others. It keeps people from coming in the front door and leaving out the back door…someone in a small group is 5 times less likely to leave and 5 times more likely to be involved in an active ministry…that makes churches healthier! Church members who aren’t part of a small group lack commitment. It lets you remain disconnected, marginal at best. You can come to a large gathering in corporate worship, but you are not part of the connected community. You are more likely to become disenchanted, critical and drop out. And finally, everyone in a group should be inviting others to the group. It’s one of the most effective ways to assimilate people. When a group stops thinking this way…the group has become more important than our purpose.]
What if Becky, Brewster, Glenda and that group that met in a little apartment behind Champ’s had forgotten what it was all about? I hate to even think about it.