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4 ways small groups work together with sermons
It’s essential for the different ministries in your church to work together, and one of the best ways to do so is to get your small groups working in tandem with your sermons.
Ministry is really hard. But sometimes we make it harder on ourselves by not having our core ministries working together. A preaching pastor can find himself wishing for a deeper impact and application of his sermon than just what happens on Sunday morning. On the other side, a community group leader can suffer from a lack of focus and direction and bear the constant weight of preparing multiple curriculums. Pastor Mark Driscoll has long spoken about the need for churches to have excellent preaching ministry (air war) that works in tandem with a great small group ministry (ground war). Both are needed to really make and train disciples of Jesus.
Sometimes we make it harder on ourselves by not having our core ministries working together.
But how do these two work together and why does it really matter? Figuring this out is critical for your ministry and makes all the difference in making disciples at your church. We’re far from perfect, but here is how sermons and small groups work together at Mars Hill.
1. Sermons impress and small groups help process
A good sermon is the work of the Holy Spirit to impress God’s Word deeply upon the lives of the congregation. Yet we have all seen many people leave a church service impacted by the message, but then go out to lunch and forget all about it. By tying community groups to sermons, you capture and build upon the work the Holy Spirit did in people’s lives through the sermon and give them even more of an opportunity to respond and have others speak truth into their lives. I have been to countless community groups and heard people say things like:
- “It really hit me during the sermon…”
- “I was thinking about what was said in the sermon and…”
- “Now that we are talking about the sermon again, I believe that I need to…”
All of these statements show what it is to see people have time to process the sermon and apply it to their lives. Skilled community group leaders realize these are prime opportunities to encourage, love, and speak truth into the lives of their people. Don’t leave this spiritual fruit to rot. Instead, provide a discipleship structure that works in tandem with Sunday’s sermon and the life of the church through the rest of the week. What we see is that groups can often go deeper and faithfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as the sermon becomes a shared springboard to other areas of life that God might have for them to dive into.
2. Sermons unite and small groups customize
God’s preached Word is powerful, and the pulpit remains the most effective way to bring common vision, direction, and learning to the whole church. Community groups complement this by unifying our people throughout the week in learning the same things and having the same conversations. This really can make your church feel “smaller” if it is large, and it can also bring more energy as everyone is moving in the same direction in what they are learning and studying in the Bible.
Small groups allow more specific and customized application of a sermon.
With that unity our people are then able to move into their neighborhoods, homes, and workplaces and find ways to connect and care for the people God has called them to. With a shared sermon, we are equipped for specific missions where God has called us to share his gospel—at work, a neighbor’s house, the rec center, or where we shop and socialize. We are sermon-based because our sermons are deeply rooted to the Bible. It allows for an ecosystem of discipleship and the work of the Holy Spirit to continually confront and convict us with the same truths throughout the week.
3. Sermons convict and small groups apply
Sermons are filled with great application, but small groups provide space and other voices to help draw out and identify the specific application for each of us. For example, say a sermon is on forgiveness. The small group is then able to help people from all sorts of different backgrounds and places in their spiritual journey apply it to their life. Someone might need to forgive their parents, while for someone else it might be an old co-worker or ex-spouse. The point is that small groups allow more specific and customized application of a sermon. And when churches are preaching to congregations of post-Christendom folks, you can count on the fact that the applications will become even more diverse and nuanced as your church grows.
Many people leave a church service impacted by the message, but then go out to lunch and forget all about it.
Because we live in a post-Christian culture, application has become all the more difficult for preachers. On a Sunday morning you may have people wrestling with issues and situations that cover a very broad spectrum. In a sermon, it would be impossible to provide specific application to all of these people and adjust it to where they are in their journey of discipleship. When our people are in community groups that are based on the sermon, they have a weekly place where the application can often be much more customized and specific to their lives. Even better, they can often begin to see the application for themselves through the loving support and questioning of good friends. These moments are huge catalysts in the lives of our people.
Small groups are the laboratories where disciples are made and trained.
God’s Word is most powerful in our lives when it is given time to marinate and be studied in multiple settings. Because our small groups are sermon-based, they give our people the opportunity to be confronted with the same passage of Scripture and questions in a group that they heard on Sunday. This makes it so that the Holy Spirit is going before us, creating conviction in people’s lives that they then get to wrestle through with a loving community.
4. Small groups live out what has been called out
The work of discipleship is often about creating environments where our people will return to the same truths and have them applied not just cognitively but to their hearts as well. What we often first understand mentally must later be applied emotionally and experientially. Small groups are the laboratories where disciples are made and trained. Without healthy community, we will fail in making disciples. We need the powerful proclamation of God’s Word to be coupled with the loving connection of brothers and sisters.
God’s Word is most powerful in our lives when it is given time to marinate.
It is this tandem that creates life-change, forms us into Jesus’ image, and provokes us to abide and rest in his grace. Through sermons we receive the instruction and truth of God’s Word, and in community groups it is transferred to us through relationship. Finally, on a very practical note, having community groups that are tied to the sermons makes it easier for our community group leaders to prepare for leading their groups. Rather than having to learn additional material throughout the week, they are learning along with the rest of their community group on Sunday and then simply continuing to study that passage before they meet with their group during the week. This is a big win for us, because we want our people in the Bible as much as possible and have seen great development of leaders because of it.