When new people enter our church, we encourage them from the beginning to get involved in a small group or two. The reality is, just attending church on Sunday is not sufficient for spiritual growth and relational growth among the church body. In order for a family to be healthy, two things are required in the life of the church—spiritual progress in active obedience to the gospel and relational growth among genuine friendships in the church. Small groups—both Sunday school and other avenues designed specifically for men and women are essential.
With all of the focus on small groups and how such groups are vital for healthy church growth, it would be wise to pause and consider the fact that something more than a small group is necessary. It would be wise to recognize that your small group is not your church—in fact it can’t be.
You Need Preaching Too
While small groups often focus on good teaching and group discussion, you need something more than that in your spiritual life. Each Christian needs to sit under the preaching of God’s Word on a weekly basis. While preaching and teaching certainly have their common ground and overlap in many areas, they are not exactly the same thing. That’s why we see different terms used in the Scriptures to reference teaching (διδάσκω) and preaching (κηρύσσω).
God uses the faithful preaching of the Bible to reprove, rebuke, and encourage the church in ways that may differ from teaching. It is also God’s design to use the preaching of God’s Word as the message of a herald sent from the King in ways that may not allow for immediate dialogue and discussion. This is good for the heart, the mind, and the conscience. This is God’s design for the church (Acts 15:35; Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 15:1).
You Need to Observe the Ordinances
While small groups certainly have their place, there is no place for the observance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper within those small groups to the exclusion of the whole church. Although it may seem like a popular thing for youth to be baptized in the ocean at summer camp, since this is an ordinance of the local church it would seem most appropriate for new converts to be baptized when the local church can gather for that purpose. The same thing must be stated regarding the Lord’s Supper. A Bible study group on the college campus should refrain from observing the Lord’s Supper unless the entire church comes together for that purpose.
If you think that Sunday school is enough, you’re wrong. If you think that your special group within the life of the church is all you need—you’re missing the big picture of the church. You need more than your small group—you need to gather with the whole church and observe the Lord’s Supper and witness new converts follow Christ in believer’s baptism. This is essential for your spiritual progress, and this can’t happen in your life if you’re excluded from the wider body of believers.
You Need the Whole Body—Not Just a Few Body Parts
Just as you need all of your body rather than just a small group of your body parts—so it is with the church. You need more than your Saturday morning coffee group. You need more than your Sunday school class. Yes, those groups are essential and profitable for your spiritual growth—but you still need more.
You need the wider body of believers who have been redeemed by Christ and who come together as one body from different backgrounds, diverse age ranges—encompassing male and female. This is evident as we read Titus 2 and see the exhortation for the older to invest into the lives of the younger.
Likewise, you need more than a group of people gathered to study the Bible. You need for the church’s leadership and servant roles to be employed in your life. You need elders to oversee you and deacons to serve you. The offices of the church are critical for spiritual growth—and these offices are often not fully functional in the context of your small group. You need the whole church.
You Need to Sing with the Whole Church
Finally, it’s important to consider the value and necessity of singing together as a church. Not only is singing a vital part of worship, it also serves as a means of discipleship. Singing the gospel not only praises God, but it helps people learn theology and affects their doxology.
Most small groups meet together, discuss theology, pray together (and for one another), but not many small groups sing together. Singing is crucial to true worship and sanctification. This is why the corporate gathering of believers made up of diverse ages, races, and sexes coming together to sing the gospel is so important. This goes beyond what typically happens at Starbucks on Saturday morning.
The next time you gather together with your small group—be thankful for how that group works together for your spiritual growth, but never lose sight of this reality—that group is not your church and can’t be your church on several different levels. You need the church and your small group, but don’t embrace your intimate reading group to the exclusion of the whole church. That pattern is common, but it’s also extremely dangerous. Don’t buy into the lie that you’re a special case and that you don’t need the whole church. You could do without your small group before you could do without your church.