Home group ministry helps your church grow

Without a budget, without being a public evangelist, you can make your church grow. A small group is the answer.

Ritchie Way has just planted a new Seventh-day Adventist church in Auckland, New Zealand.

Nevermind how small your congregation is! If you have unchurched people in your community, you can make your church grow. You won't need the skills of a public evangelist. You don't have to be a super pulpit salesman. You don't need a big budget.

Try this exciting plan based on the principle that the life of the body is in its cells. If the cells die, the body dies. If the cells are healthy, the body is healthy. When the cells multiply, the body grows.

What is true for the human body is also true for the body of Christ the church. Life is in the cells, and the growth of the body of Christ depends on the multiplication of its cells.

The first Christian churches began with basic cell groups for example, in the homes of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3, 5), Nymphas (Col. 4:15), and Philemon (Philemon 1, 2). When several home groups became established in a city, they eventually constructed a place of worship. However, evangelism and church growth activities centered in home cell groups.

The home environment

Research shows that most people attend church, not because they understand and accept all the doctrines, but because it offers them a Christian support system. Conversely, most people stop attending church, not because they disbelieve the church's doctrines, but because they do not find in that church the support they need. And one of the most successful, time-tested Christian support systems is the well-run home cell group.

Why are home groups the best place for church life and growth?

First, the home group setting provides more fellowship than the regular church setting. And people need fellow ship. In a church situation, people may visit with each other before and after service, but this barely meets the definition of true fellowship which requires sharing, warmth, caring, and healing.

Second, the informal and relaxed environment of the home provides for free and open discussion and involvement. Even those not ready to identify with our church feel comfortable in the nonthreatening atmosphere of a home group.

Third, the home group meetings in a very personal way care for the three areas in which people who come to worship need help: the inreach in which God reaches into people through His Word, the outreach in which people reach out to people through witness, and the upreach in which people reach up to God through prayer.

Inreach

In my pastoral experience in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, I have worked with many home groups. The Bible is the only textbook we use. We may use certain study aids, but the focus is always the Bible. No human format must limit what God has to say. Each group chooses a book of the Bible, to be studied chapter by chapter. We emphasize thoroughness rather than speed.

No method of Bible study is entirely free of subjectivity. The inductive method, however, has less risk of human contamination than other methods. To teach inductively, the group leader need not be a qualified theologian. All that is required is a basic understanding of the principles of inductive inquiry.

The deductive method starts with a preset position, such as the secret rapture, or premillennialism, and seeks sup port from the Bible for this belief. By contrast, the inductive method does not start with a preset position. There are no such positions at all in the inductive method. We do not bring positions to the Bible; we seek them from the Bible. We do not judge the Bible by our teachings; we judge our teachings by the Bible. We study the Bible from the inside out.

The one question all inductive students of the Scriptures continually ask about their conclusions is "Where does the Bible say that?" Home group members must be taught to continually ask themselves, "Is that what the Bible says? or is it only what I think it says?"

The duty of the study leader is not to have the right answers, but to ask the right questions. Most of the preparation time for the study of a passage will be spent in preparing questions to stimulate discussion on it. Although this method takes longer, the truths learned are fixed more firmly in the mind.

Jesus was a master of the inductive method. He would induce the solution from His hearers with a stimulating question, most likely followed by a searching pause. For example:

"Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (Matt. 12:48, NIV).

"John's baptism where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?" (Matt. 21:25, NIV).

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"(Luke l0:36,NIV).

Questions are important in inductive study. Study the designated Scripture pas sage thoroughly. Pay attention to the text, context, interpretation, and application. Remember, the best kind of preparation is "prePRAYERation."

"But what kind of questions should I ask?" you wonder. To begin with, avoid closed questions---ones that call for a simple yes or no. For example, if you are discussing John 1:1, don't ask, "Was Jesus God?" Instead, choose an open question: "How could Jesus be God and be with God at the same time?" The objective is to get a discussion going to involve the heart, the mind, and the tongue of the members.

Second, ask application questions, to turn head knowledge into heart knowledge. Don't be embarrassed to ask questions that require personal reflections or responses. A question such as "Lora, What does it mean to you that Jesus is God?" will require Lora to consider her relationship with Christ. Such reflective questions are important for Christian development and maturity.

Outreach

Most home groups have their sharing time at the beginning of each meeting. This is the time to reach out to one another for help and with help. The sharing of joys and blessings and disappointments is a natural way to begin a meeting. It acts as a relief valve for emotions and tensions, and creates empathy within the group.

Sharing time helps group members to grasp what God's Word is saying about how they should relate to their real-life circumstances. Members also thus share "one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2, NKJV).

Sharing, of course, requires trust. A betrayal of trust can undo in one brief moment a relationship that has taken several months to build. The purpose of every home group is to build the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11, 12). This building process should increase the body in quantity as well as in quality. The group is to be built up numerically by inviting nongroup people into its fellow ship, and it is to be built up spiritually by helping each member to come to maturity in Christ. Both goals go hand in hand. One goal does not precede or negate the other. Personal growth is enhanced by sharing the gospel with others. Where sharing lacks, spirituality suffers.

One home group leader in my church confessed that his group's spirituality had peaked. The group tried all it could but could not raise its spiritual enthusiasm. Would I come and do a SWOT analysis an evaluation of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats?

We immediately discovered the problem: the group was not reaching out to others. In fact, they were afraid to. I asked each of the group members to invite a new person to the next meeting. One young nurse would have no part in it. "Don't you lay that responsibility on me," she said. "I won't have it. It's just not my thing to approach other people."

"I'm not laying that responsibility on you," I quietly assured her. "Your Saviour is. And He will help you do a good job. Give it a go. You've got more ability than you give yourself credit for."

"No way!" she replied.

The next Sabbath as I was entering the church, she rushed up to me, all excited, with the news that she had invited a nonchurchgoing friend along to her home group, and she had accepted! So if the pot is not boiling, it is probably because it is not sitting on the flame.

Whenever the spiritual experience of a home group plateaus, the cause, in most cases, is the failure of that group to witness and grow. The key to a vibrant, exciting, growing home group, rejoicing in a "first love" experience, is to be continually inviting new people to the fellowship; to lead them to the Lord; to divide and expand again, and again. The only limits are your faith and "the ends of the earth."

Upreach

Prayer is the nutrition of the home group. Praying as a group, in pairs, as individuals, as families, or in small sub groups bonds the group members. When members have special concerns or needs, the group should not only pray for those needs but also assure those persons of continued interest and prayer through the week. During the week a personal call providing such assurance will be a great source of strength.

Prayers in a group should be short and meaningful, free from cliches. Make the prayers personal, warm, and specific. Pray with love for one another. Pray by name. Pray for the people you intend to invite. Pray for the people who have come. Pray for the church and the pastor. Pray for the Holy Spirit. Ministry of prayer is a ministry of support and growth.

Starting a home group

Here are five easy steps to organizing a home group.

1. Begin with prayer. Write down 6 to 10 names of people with similar perspectives. Phone or visit them on your plans for organizing a home group study. Outline the purpose of the group, its informality, its stress on Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. Invite them to your home at a time convenient to all. Ask for no other commitment than just to come.

2. The first meeting may be a little tense. Members need to get to know and trust one another. Introductions are in order. The leader may begin by speaking about his/her spiritual journey: the ups and downs, the struggles and victories, the strengths and needs. Sharing experiences and talking about spiritual needs build relationship bonds. Other members may join in, and each should feel free to say whatever or how much he or she wants to say.

3. At the first meeting, the group leader should initiate a brief discussion on the objectives of the home group study, prayer, fellowship, sharing. The group should then decide time, day, and place of subsequent meetings. The group should also choose the book of the Bible they wish to study, so that they can come prepared for the following meeting.

4. The group leader should give to each one the "Home Group Covenant" (see page 11), and the document may be read together. The leader would ask the members to support the concept.

5. A prayer session would close the meeting.


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Ritchie Way has just planted a new Seventh-day Adventist church in Auckland, New Zealand.

February 1992

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