Reprinted from Good Things Come in Small Groups by Ron Nicholas. ©1985 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515

The world is hungry for the community the church can offer, and it will look for it elsewhere if the church fails to provide it.

GOD MAKES THE CHURCH, WE DON'T. JUST AS WE DID NOT DECIDE WHO would be a member in our family and who would not, so it is with the church. We can choose not to use our gifts or we can pull out of some committee, but once we are God's children we are in the church and that's that.

We are the body of Christ. There really is no such thing as loneranger Christianity. Paul Tournier makes this point when he says there are two things we cannot do alone: one is be married and the other is be a Christian.

The real truth about the church is that we are a chosen people. We have not chosen God or each other so much as He has chosen us. Peter explains it in his letter to the church at Rome: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10, RSV).

Peter wants us to remember where we have come fromnowhere! Once we were "no people." Oh, we tried to be a community; but it was based on beauty, intelligence, a choosing of one another based on personality, your meeting my needs, a choosing of one another because of ...

The good news is that now we have received mercy. God has chosen us just as He chose people in the past. Our potential as a community is not based on our work but on God's. And our forgiveness in Christ is the cornerstone on which we build. He chose a kingdom of priests so that the world might know of His wonderful deeds.

God's choosing us and our experience of this community are, however, often quite distinct experiences. We may agree intellectually and theologically that we are God's people, but how do we experience this truth in our churches? One thing is clear: both the Scriptures and our lives tell us that we don't experience the fullness of Christian community in large group worship or at church banquets. We do find it in small groups. If the church is serious about fellowship, it must break down into smaller units.


Jesus poured his life into twelve disciples, expecting that they would change the world. That was some small group. Imagine Matthew, a tax collector detested by Jews with Simon the Zealot, sworn to hate all that Rome stood for. Or Peter, headstrong and bold, dining with James and John, while they jockey for positions of power. This group went through some tough times!

Yet Jesus chose these twelve and promised that their love for one another would make an impact, causing others to believe in Him (John 17:21-26). In Acts Jesus turns his work over to them; they were to declare His kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and "to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, RSV). God chose his people that the whole world might be blessed.

Paul tells us in Philippians what will happen in the world when people observe Christian unity they will be drawn in. But often, rather than going into the world, the church stays put. We expect others to come to us and visit our buildings to experience the love of God. We need to design a strategy for penetrating the world so that our community can be seen by the world and make an impact on it.


Dan Hendricks came to Harvard University looking for what he called true friendship. His parents were atheistic psychiatrists, but as a child he had read the Namia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis and had developed from them an entire world view, his ideal of true friendship. At Harvard, as he met with a small group of Christians, for the first time in his life he came to know people who lived by his standard of friendship. He saw the gospel lived out in a group of believers that were experiencing the fellowship of the Spirit, Christian community. About eight weeks later, after studying the Gospel of Mark, Dan became a Christian.

The world is hungry for the community the church can offer, and it will look for it elsewhere if the church fails to provide it. Several years ago my father died. As I returned home to be with my mother, I found myself with several people who had been regular customers at the tavern my father owned for eight years. They too had come to honor my father and comfort my Mother. I was struck with the kind of friendship they had developed which Christians so often fail to have. My experience at church has at times left me disappointed. I know of others who came because they needed community, but who did not find it in the regular worship service. Every church must deal with this problem if it is to demonstrate that Christian community is better than what the world has to offer. True friendship can happen in the church, but it takes small groups. Christian fellowship is having every member of your small group call you when your mother dies or you lose a baby during pregnancy. It's being able to share about failures in parenting and marriage, being cared for when the job becomes too much for you, being encouraged in developing gifts of leadership and hospitality.

Greg and Marsha, a young Christian couple, were both committed to Christ, but the Word of God had become for them more and more just words, less and less an experience of God. A young associate pastor of their church invited them to be a part of a small group. It changed their lives.

They developed relationships with other Christians who held them accountable in their personal growth with God and with whom they could share personal problems. When Greg and Marsha moved to California they began another small group, and when they moved to Boston they began yet another. For them, Christian community as lived out in a small group became a must for Christian living.


In his book The Problem of Wineskins, Howard Snyder points to a number of advantages of a small group within the church.

It is flexible. The group can change its procedure readily and meet the needs of its members. My own group changes every three months.

It is mobile. You can meet in a home or even an office. It is not bound by a building. Think of the three thousand people in Acts 2 meeting in homes!

It is inclusive. You are missed if you don't come.

The small group is open to all types of people.

It is personal. The small group creates a place where my needs and the needs of those others who commit themselves to it can be met. I remember our small group studying Psalm 46 after my son's bike was stolen right out from under him. What a great help it was for Julie and me to have around us friends who could not only affirm with us the truth of the psalm, that God is our refuge and our strength, but who could also be Christ's body to us in a personal way through their listening and praying.

It is risky. A small group puts us at the edge of adventure in our Christian life. As we discover ourselves and others through conflict, care and confrontation, we grow. God works in our lives through others.

It is an excellent way to evangelize. The true friendship of a small group will be noticed by the world, if the church is actually in the world.

It is not easy to begin a small group strategy in the church. For some it is too much of a change. But I've seen it work. In my church in California a small group of about twelve became convinced that what was happening in their group was important enough to share with others in the church. So each member learned how to lead another small group. They risked themselves and changed our church. Now almost half of the congregation is involved in small groups. This was particularly helpful when for over a year the church was without a pastor. It grew even without professional leadership.

God is calling us to a great task as a church. The church is not a holy place, but it is a holy people called by God to declare His mighty deeds to the world. Annie Dillard says that "we are itsy bitsy people living itsy bitsy lives raising tomatoes when we could be raising Lazarus" (Pilgrim at Tinker Creed). The practical nature of small groups can be key in penetrating our world. They can help us raise Lazarus.

Reprinted from Good Things Come in Small Groups by Ron Nicholas. ©1985 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the USA. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515