My treasurer at Knaphill is passionate about the importance of house groups. He’s just written a document in support of them in the church, and with his permission I share it with you:
What is a house group?
Probably the easiest way to define it is to regard it as a church that meets in someone’s home. That’s an interesting thought really! “A house group is a church that meets in a home!!”
By ‘church’ we mean, of course, a bunch of people who are committed to following Jesus, committed to each other, and committed to the wider church. The house group should have the same priorities that one expects in a church. These would include mission, evangelism, pastoral care and teaching so that its members can grow in their faith together.
Following Jesus involves
- commitment to building the Kingdom of God; and
- making disciples, bringing people to a more mature faith.
These can only be achieved if the members of house groups are prepared to share their unique God-given personalities and gifts for the benefit of the group in which they find themselves, as their mutual trust grows.
Although the main purpose of the house group is often regarded to be pastoral care, there is also a second purpose, which is discipleship.
All the members of the group need to be growing. They all need to be using their gifts, serving one another, discovering practical ways to express God’s love. Everyone has a real contribution to make. People grow as they make these contributions and as they see God answering prayer.
Everyone also needs to be growing in their understanding, and the house group provides a unique and safe environment in which people can ask questions and explore issues which affect their everyday lives.
Why join a House Group?
People often ask “Why join a House Group?” Is going to church not enough? This is what John Wesley said:
“Look east or west, north or south … is Christian fellowship there? Rather, are not the bulk of parishioners a mere rope of sand? What Christian connection is there between them? What intercourse in spiritual things? What watching over each other’s souls? What bearing of one another’s burdens?”.
If we are honest, we believe many people today echo Wesley’s comment. Interesting expression, isn’t it? Are we not a “rope of sand”? Many different little grains but none joined together?
So what is the answer? What did John Wesley do to rectify the situation? He sought to “introduce fellowship where none existed” by the formation of class meetings. These class meetings, cell groups, house groups – call them what you like – were not to be seen as an alternate for church attendance but rather they were to
“complement the church and its ministry by offering a more intense and personal encounter of faith and grace within a context of mutual support, love and care”.
It is for this reason that we too need to go back to the roots of the early church and establish house groups, where we can re-discover wise principles laid down for true biblical fellowship.
What’s the real purpose?
There are various references in the Bible to how the early church started with small groups and we read how –
- The early church were “one in heart and mind,”
- They shared everything they had,
- They honoured one another above themselves,
- They practised hospitality,
- They always kept on praying for all the saints.
- They held that each member “belongs to all the others.”
- Through every member ministry they encouraged one another and “built each other up.”
- They spurred one another on “toward love and good deeds. They were committed to “go and make disciples”.
These things can’t all happen easily just by attending church services.
In Ephesians 4:12-13, we read “Christ gave those gifts [to be apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers] to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving and to make the body of Christ stronger. This is what we should do in our house groups – desire and endeavour to
“prepare God’s holy people for works of service …… until we are all joined together in the same faith and in the same knowledge of the Son of God and become mature persons , attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.
In the small group environment it is much easier to work towards these lofty goals than it is in the larger body of the local church. People grow to trust each other and become more willing to share and it is through this process of trust and sharing that we all grow in our faith.
What happens at the House Group?
Fear of the unknown can be a hindrance, so it is as well to mention what the house group meetings should be like. It’s rather simple really. There should be –
- A time of welcome, friendship, laughter and a cup of tea or coffee together
- a time of worship, listening to music, for example
- a time of Bible study
- a time of prayer, including intercessory prayer.
The format is often referred to as “the 4 W’s”
There need not be a particular set agenda but this is generally what would happen. There may be times when the group will watch a Christian video or listen to a teaching tape. Nobody should be expected to say anything, unless they wish to. Nobody will be expected to pray aloud – it’s a matter of personal choice. Nobody will be “put on the spot” during the Bible Studies. What is said, and the extent of participation, is entirely up to the individual. The evening should be times of true fellowship in a relaxed atmosphere of mutual trust and care.
The wider church has for many years been putting great emphasis on the use of small groups for discipleship, outreach and other purposes. How can we love one another as Jesus loved his disciples unless we create the environments in which close relationships can develop? This is what small groups can achieve.
Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples, because he loved them. He trained and prepared them in a small group context. The kind of relationships Jesus wanted for his followers can’t be built simply on the basis of casual contact, like about once a week over a cup of tea or coffee after church. The early church certainly followed this example, and so produced mature and committed disciples who became effective both in evangelism as well as the other tasks they got from the Lord.
This is what we need to aim for today – to create the right kind of environment in which trust can develop and grow, in which we can love one another, encourage one another, respect one another, watch over and care for one another – just as the Bible instructs us. This can’t happen if we limit our contact to Sunday church services and a brief chat afterwards – even if we do occasionally go out for a meal with others from the church and talk about things. House groups are vital if we sincerely wish to strengthen our church. Just as the early church often met in homes, so too should we. It is interesting that the vast majority of growing churches today have some kind of home cell network in place, through which new people are added, encouraged, strengthened and nurtured. This is what God wants.
Healthy house groups should have as part of their vision the desire to increase in number. This requires two things. The first is the addition of new people to the group. The second is the training and equipping of existing members to lead house groups themselves.