What are Small Groups?
A simple definition of a small group is: "A micro-community of 3 to 12 Jesus followers doing the Christian life deeply together." If honesty and vulnerability are necessary for spiritual growth, group dynamics would tell us that the levels of transparency that make this possible won't happen if the group is made up of more than 12 or less than 3 individuals.
Are they biblical?
"Doing the Christian life deeply together" can be seen in the practices of some of the first believers, following Pentecost, as outlined in Acts 2:42-47. Included in this list are: 1) devotion to living out what they learned from studying God's Word together ("the apostles' teaching); 2) devotion to doing life together ("fellowship" or koinonia); 3) eating together and/or partaking of the Lord's Supper together ("the breaking of bread"); 4) wholehearted, faith-centered prayer that brought about the miracles seen throughout the book of Acts; and 5) meeting one another's needs even when it meant giving up something substantial of their own: "Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need" (Acts 2:44-45).
Why does it matter?
Small groups, unlike straightforward Bible studies, make disciples through the utilization of and processing of God's story as it intersects with our stories. When an individual joins a micro-community of believers, that person involves herself/himself in the gaining and processing of biblical knowledge in community and utilizes Scripture to get to know a complex God and to understand life in relationship with Him. This is what I call "experiential discipleship." Examples of experiential discipleship in action include experiencing a "dark night of the soul" season and processing that time of life through the lens of Scripture with a group of fellow journeyers; dealing with the heartbreak of a broken relationship and processing with others the pain in light of God's Word as it speaks to grief, loss, and ultimate victory; or facing failure and working through it as group members share their stories and together you look at examples from Scripture.
Will they help me grow?
But experiential discipleship isn't just about darkness, missteps, and failure. Small groups encourage one another, celebrate life's accomplishments together, and rejoice together when God answers their prayers. A biblical small group knows and does 1 Corinthians 12:26, "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it."