Midtown Baptist's vision for community groups is taken from this 9Marks' article on small groups. We have made slight edits to reflect the terminology of our congregation. As a church, we are thankful for the many helpful resources provided through 9Marks.
We view community groups as a means of allowing the congregation to shepherd and disciple each other, within the bounds of pastoral oversight (Eph. 4:11-13). Community groups facilitate relationships for building one another up in the faith.
They are not support or counseling groups, and they are not pure study groups. Rather, they are used to cultivate spiritual fellowship together, a fellowship informed by Scripture and pursued through prayer, study, and interpersonal reflection.
In a very real, but informal way, community group leaders are tasked with an extension of the elders’ pastoral ministry—the encouragement, exhortation, and building up of a particular group of people in the church.
In thinking about discipleship, it’s helpful to think of a spectrum, with the whole congregation at one end, one on one relationships at the other, and community groups in the middle.
Congregation - Community Groups - One to One Relationships
On the one hand, our church attempts to prioritize the gatherings of the whole congregation, because that’s where the primary teaching is done and where the entire body, with all its diverse parts, most reflects the gospel of Christ. On the other hand, we recognize how effective individual discipleship can be. In between these two ends of the spectrum, we have community groups working to connect the benefits of our ministry to the whole congregation and the ministry going on between individuals. Community groups provide the context in which what the church is learning as a whole can be applied more individually and deliberately. It’s the context in which members can pray and spur one another on to evangelism. It’s the context for facilitating discipleship relationships.
We are not a “cell church” in which the entire membership is organized into a pyramid of community groups with staff and elders at the top. Nor do we, in most cases, employ community groups as our way of doing target ministry to particular groups of people. Instead, most of our groups are “general community groups,” so that every group looks more like a microcosm of the whole church. We want the culture of the whole to be reflected in the parts.
Very often in churches, community is seen as an end, or goal, and community groups are the means to achieve that end. We understand community to be both a by-product of and a means to foster individual discipleship. Therefore, we have tried to think of community group ministry not as a ministry to groups with the aim of producing good groups. Instead, we have approached community group ministry as a ministry to individuals, in the context of community, with the aim of producing faithful Christians.
We take care to ensure that community groups are neither a substitute nor a competitor with the church as a whole. Rather, they are an extension of it, a particularization of the whole community. This is particularly important in today’s church culture, where many Christians are accustomed to thinking of the community group, rather than the church, as their primary spiritual community. It’s possible to be a biblical Christian without belonging to a community group. It’s impossible to be one without belonging to a church.
During the membership process, one of the elders will ask each member candidate if they would like to join a community group. If yes, the elder giving primary oversight to community groups will identify an appropriate group, contact the community group leader, and ask the leader—space permitting—to invite the new member.
If a church member, who did not join a community group following the membership process, would like to join a community group at a later point, we simply direct them to the elder giving primary oversight to community groups.
In short, community group participation is encouraged, but not required.
In general, all our groups are open to anyone. We are hesitant to particularize them [though, there may be circumstances where that is beneficial], since we want our church members to understand that one of the gospel’s first implications in our lives is learning to love people who are not like us. Community groups are limited only by the capacity of the meeting place and the ability of the leader. Groups generally have a leader and co-leader, the former discipling and preparing the latter for leadership. Groups typically meet on the second and fourth Sunday evenings of each month.
Currently, our community groups are used to build one another up in the faith by praying together and making more individualized applications from the Sunday’s sermon. Though, freedom is given to community group leaders in deciding how to use the time. They might choose to study a book of the Bible or a book on Christian living. There are a number of books that our church constantly recommends as good for Christians to read, which our leaders may choose to use. Whatever they choose to do, we simply ask them to get a pastor’s approval first—and to be open to his suggestions.
We expect the following of community group leaders. They must:
We expect the following of community group members. They must:
The elders will hold an initial community group leaders training and periodic on-going training. The types of topics that would be covered include, but are not limited to:
Our church desires to offer evangelistic community groups for non-Christians. These will typically involve a study through the Gospel of Mark.
As for non-members, we are happy for our church members to organize their own Bible studies, for instance, with other Christians at their work place who belong to other churches. Yet, we would not count that community group as something our church does, insofar as it would be outside of our pastoral oversight.
It’s worth adding, however, that we deliberately do not allow individuals who attend our church, but who won’t join the church for one reason or another, to participate in our community groups. We have adopted this stand because we believe that the ministry and life of the church as a whole is that important in a Christian’s life. We don’t want to do anything that facilitates this kind of casual, non-committal attendance. Rather, we encourage friends like these to become covenant members at Midtown Baptist Church or to find a church where they can formally commit to the entire church as a member, and then join a community group in that church.
As a church grows, community group leaders increasingly do important ministry and pastoral care. Community group leaders have the privilege to help facilitate and equip the only group in the congregation that can adequately shepherd the whole congregation, and that’s the congregation itself.