Why Sermon Based CGs?
Community groups are a really important discipleship experience in our lives and also for the life of a healthy church.
There are various ways of being/doing Community Groups. Churches have been organizing small groups for about two thousand years now. In the book of Acts, we see churches renting buildings for large meetings and also meeting in homes for fellowship in smaller groups.
In recent church history, churches have approached small groups in a variety of ways:
Young couples’ groups
Prayer groupsProphecy groups
Bible study groups
Book discussion groups
New believer classes
Of the above ways of having small groups, at Del Rey Church we have intentionally and prayerfully rallied our small groups (what we call "Community Groups") around the preaching of God's word on Lord's Day. More simply put, we call this 'sermon based Community Groups.' This approach involves believers being in church on Sunday and actively listening to the sermon in anticipation of later in the week getting into Community Group and discussing what you learned and how it can be applied in real life.
In saying we are committed to the sermon based approch, we qualify this in saying that it needs to be flexible, that is, our groups will sometimes do the above activities. So for example, a group might not discuss the sermon on any given week, in order to devote their time to a service project or hosting an evangelistic outreach or just spending the time in hours of prayer/song. If we are really hearing the word on Sunday and then applying it together in community, it will lead our small groups to action, so we encourage groups to focus on sermon application and mobilizing for action as well as deeper fellowship (e.g. sharing meals, recreation, etc.).
All of the above said, let's consider some advantages to this approach below. Sermon based community groups are such a good thing for a church, because they:
1. Increase the educational impact of the sermons.
People at the Sunday service take better notes because they’re getting ready to talk about it in their Community Groups. This makes the sermon more interactive and thus educational as those in CG will instinctively analyze the sermon searching for application and key thoughts to share with their group.
2. Help us pull in the marginally interested.
The congregation will tend to take more notes because they see other people are writing down more. Also, people will have to think and question about things they wouldn’t normally during the week. While listening to others in group wrestle with application, the marginally interested can be drawn in. Unfortunately, many folks find good expository Bible teaching to lack application and they get bored with it, but engaging in intentional conversation and applying together what is heard will pull in and disciple us to listen to the Sunday sermon with interest.
3. It allows us to reach more people with our expository messages.
SInce people are expected to prepare for Community Group by listening to the sermon, those who missed on any given Sunday will get the recording or listen online, which gives us a chance to make sure our church family is soaking in the word even if they miss.
4. It enables us to sharpen our church wide focus
This happens because everyone is interacting around the same thing as a church, rather than just listening to the message and then in small groups they go off and all listen to different things. The sermon based approach gives us a whole theme for our week centered on the sermon, as opposed to a variety of separate messages in all these other church groups like Sunday school, midweek study, mens group, womens group, etc. As opposed to having a bunch of disconnected messages, the sermon based approach allows us to focus on learning and applying together one section of Scripture or doctrine. This way we cover less material but with a greater intensity of spiritual formation in mind.
It has been said that church folks are educated beyond their level of obedience. They know more than they actually apply. Thus, we think slowing down the information stream and focusing on our hearts to seek the Lord for transforming them in the word of God we have studied, before moving on to more study, is a really healthy thing. As James 1 says:
22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
If we are to have a sharp focus as a church, we must be applying what we study and doing it together. If our small groups are always studying different things or topics (i.e., Apologetics, Hermeneutics, End Times, Financial Stewardship, Politics, Parenting, etc…) it can divide our efforts. I can create a buzz that will drive participation by certain audiences or interests that weakens the idea of diversity in community. We want everyone involved in mid-week fellowship not just those who want to be taught a certain school or learn a certain topic. That said, these topics like Apologetics, Hermeneutics, End Times, etc. are very important and we offer courses, curricula and books on these at times during the year as a means to equip disciples for ministry, but the Community Group has an emphasis on building in community and spiritual growth around the Sunday sermon.
5. It will allow us to mainstream new believers.
How will new believers grow if they are not in relationships with fully mature Christians? We are about making disciples and this puts new, immature and stagnant Christians in an environment with mature believers to help disciple them. Many churches organize programs that keep people isolated in these categories, i.e. “New Believers class,” “Growing in Christ,” etc… but we want these groups to integrate together. Also, Sermon based community groups are comfortable for new believers all the way down to mature saints (even theologians!) because the information is based on a level playing field--we all heard the same message and the word of God is powerful to transform us all.
6. It gets rid of those “silly” Bible study questions.
In the professionally written curriculum peddled to churches for group study there is often these “silly” Bible study questions that are so simple (i.e. who wrote the book of Timothy). But when you are dealing with sermon, the people already know the answer to these questions because they have the context from the Sunday sermon. In turn, those in community group can cut straight to the point of spiritual formation, instead of dwelling on “silly” material that the pastor would already cover in his message.
7. It requires a less knowledgeable leader (no offense).
Sermon based community groups allow us to mobilize more groups for corporate health faster, because they don't require experts to lead and launch them. Hosting requires a holy life and the ability to facilitate. We want holiness, humility and hospitality in our leaders, not advanced Bible teachers, theologians or small group gurus. There are not as many well-equipped Bible teachers out there as there are shepherds who just want to serve people. We should take advantage of this! Hand picked members will be trained to be facilitators and vetted by our elders. Of course, we expect our leaders to become knowledgeable, but in terms of launching and mobilizing, with a sermon based approach, we can also learn as we go.
Since knowledge is important to us (Christianity is a knowledge tradition), we need to have accessible knowledge in all Community Groups. Thus we encourage and require a basic library of commentaries, systematic theology, apologetics, counseling and other aids to help the group in the event a question comes up that needs to be answered or explained further. For more reads, check out: http://astore.amazon.com/derech-20
8. It protects from heresy.
The sermon based community group is concentrated on the Sunday service’s teaching, specifically it’s application not so much it’s doctrinal content. Groups that are designed by going through doctrines or topics are great but must be micro-managed more to assure that sound teaching is upheld. These kinds of Bible studies require more advanced teachers and create more work for the leaders who are preparing as well. Even such curriculum as the popular Alpha Course has experienced this as leaders have strayed seriously in the doctrinal positions of the designed study. Sermon based groups solves this to a great degree.
9. It allows us to get personal with the word of God
Pre-packaged Bible study curriculum is not personal. Some guy or gal outside of our community wrote it, whereas the sermon based approach is really personal, because it centers around preaching that was prepared and exposited with our local church in mind. Listening to a radio preacher can be edifying (assuming the word of God is being rightly handled), but listening to the local preaching that is prepared for us personally by people we personally know is simply more personal.
10. It encourages those who labor in the word of God to feed and lead us
Hebrews 13:17–19 talks about leaders in the church who keep watch over our souls and the passage admonishes the church to work together for the joy of leaders. It speaks about this as profitable and calls on the church to pray for leaders. All of this to say that when the church rallies around her leaders who are laboring to preach to us and takes the time to really dig into the feast they have prepared for us, it is very encouraging. It's sort of like finishing the meal that was cooked up for us. When you work hard to cook a healthy and tasty meal for someone you love and they don't finish, it can be discouraging. Sermon based groups are a way of eating up the meal that was made for us and letting it really nourish us, as we sit together and apply the word, as well, as we process the content to make sure we understood it. Understanding and application is increased with this approach to community groups, which is an all around win-win for the laborer of the word and the listener.
Anyways, that's why we do what we do in our Community Groups. We pray it enriches and challenges you and that the LORD bears much fruit in and through our commitment to preach the word and gather in community around the word. Soli Deo Gloria!