Ben Reed has written some really good stuff on Gospel-focused small groups.
Are your groups structured so that basic Gospel questions and concerns can be brought to the table? Or are you so laid back that the Gospel is never discussed? Or are you so “holy” that you jump to “deeper” questions (as if there is anything more life-changing and “deeper” than the Gospel!) Are you group leaders ready and willing to ask these questions?
Do you or your group leaders make the mistake of assuming that, just because a person is attending your church and frequents your small groups, he or she is saved? How are you giving your group members the freedom to explore faith?
Good stuff there.
Elsewhere, Steve Timmis, co-author of Total Church, argues for calling our groups “gospel communities”.
The idea of missional communities has become trendy. This enables larger churches to devolve the routine stuff of church life to smaller groups throughout the week while retaining a central teaching session, usually on a Sunday. But why call them “missional” when we have a perfectly good word at our disposal in “gospel”? Gospel communities is exactly what they are: communities that are all about the gospel because they are formed by the gospel and exist for the gospel.
Here are my four practical tips for centering your small group, life group, community group, cell group, home group, Sunday School class, Bible study, or whatever you call it on the gospel:
1) Look for the gospel in whatever text you’re studying. Ask the question to the group, “How does this passage/verse relate to the good news of Jesus?”
2) As Ben says, ask the question to your group, “What is the gospel?” I had been preaching gospel-centered sermons in our young church’s worship service for about a year before I passed out a survey in our main small group that asked, “What is the gospel?” The responses revealed a variety of expressions, but I was encouraged that with only one exception, the answers were “correct.” (The one exception’s answer to the question was “Letters that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote.” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic, but that answer is correct so far as it goes.)
3) Talk about the gospel. Discuss it. Chew on it. It’s a good word Christians don’t use much any more, and that’s a shame. When the university freshman from Southern California says to me, “I have learned so much about the gospel at Element” it doesn’t just encourage me that she has grown spiritually; it encourages me that she’s using the word “gospel,” something I rarely hear from the younger generation.
4) Celebrate communion. (I know some churches may not allow small groups to do this separately from the corporate worship service, but if they will, do it.) Consuming the Lord’s Supper regularly centers us on Christ’s atoning work. It reminds us that we need Jesus to live and that he has indeed given his life so that we might live. Eating the Lord’s Supper is receiving the gospel.
There are more things you can do and talk about. A missional focus for your group (in service and giving) makes the gospel come alive in your community in a way unlike any other. But these are 4 initial steps you may be able to take in your group right now. See especially Ben’s questions/recommendations as well.
P.S. On a somewhat unrelated note, Timmis is talking about it being a trend to call your community “missional.” Yesterday Ed Stetzer apparently said people put “missional” on the front of something to make it sound cooler. Here’s a tip: If you read these and then decide to take the descriptor “missional” off your stuff, they are talking about you.