A Biblical Foundation for Church Growth 

Churches come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes and God is using all kinds of churches, large and small, to reach all kinds of people in our world today. More than 95% of churches in the world today are less than 200 people in size. About 4% of churches are between 200 and 1000 people. Only 1% of churches are over 1000 people. Whatever size a church is, we must understand that growth and increase is God’s will (see Gen.1:28; 9:1, 7; 17:6; 13:16; 15:5. Ex.1:7. Dt.4:27; 28:62. Mt.24:14. Acts 2:41-42, 47; 4:4; 6:7; 8:12; 9:31, 35; 11:21; 21:20). Within 30 years of Jesus’ planting the first church in Jerusalem, the entire then-known world was impacted by the church with multitudes turning to Christ. God wants the church to grow – to be fruitful and effective in its purpose. We need a growth mentality – progress, advancement, acceleration, moving forward, vision, purpose and destiny. Not survival, retreat, plateau, decline or consolidation.

The Large Church 

There are many advantages of a large growing church. This includes the potential of making a large impact, more resources for ministries and programs, better quality preaching and teaching ministry, an inspiring worship service, dynamic youth and children’s ministries for each age group, many opportunities for developing close friendships, a large variety of opportunities for Christian ministry and service, a missions program that is making a difference, good quality leadership and staff, as well as a large church program characterised by variety and diversity. Large churches have huge potential – for relevance, quality and ministry options.

There are also disadvantages of a large church. These include not being able to know everyone, not being cared for personally by the senior pastor, lots more work to be done, continual change, more complexity, personal inconvenience at times, as well as a variety of dangers of ‘bigness’ (pride, self-sufficiency, complacency and institutionalisation).

A Program Shift – Becoming a Caring Community 

One of the shifts God clearly spoke to me about for our church back in 1995 (see the book Transforming Your Church ) was a Program Shift. God wants us to shift our focus from just having events to the development of meaningful relationships between people, so that the church becomes a caring Christian community. For too long, church has become a thing we go to, an event or an experience, rather than a community of people networked together in loving relationships. The church is to be much more than a crowd gathering for an event. It is to be a closely networked group of people serving Christ together. Genuine loving relationships provide the care that people need and the context in which life transformation can take place. We want to be large enough to make a difference but small enough to really care.

Building a Small Groups Culture

In a large church the only way to ensure that authentic relationships and genuine community takes place is through continually getting smaller. One of the best ways for this to happen is to embrace a culture of small groups, which we have done here at CityLife Church. God works His purposes out through two aspects of church life: the large gathering and the small gathering. This balance of large and small gatherings is demonstrated throughout the Scriptures - in the nation of Israel, through Jesus’ life and ministry, and in the early church (Acts 2:42-47; 5:42; 20:20). The small group must be seen as primary to the purpose of the church and not as a secondary option or an add-on. We need both large and small gatherings of believers.

The Purpose of Life Groups 

  1. A Life Group is a Care Group - ‘It is a place where Christians can gather together to care for one another through friendship, encouragement and practical expressions of love and kindness.’

    The mark of a mature church is the love that exists within that community (Jn.13:34-35. Acts 2:42-47.1 Cor.13). People need to belong not just believe. Celebration events when an entire local church gathers together are very important. However, a good celebration event alone does not make for a healthy church. Close relationships cannot be built in a large event nor can every person receive personal care. However, small groups provide an environment where these important things do occur.

  2. A Life Group is a Disciple-Making Group - ‘It is a place where Christians can grow together to become fervent followers of Jesus Christ through the process of discipling, teaching and mentoring.’

    A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is dedicated to becoming like Jesus in every aspect of life. This process of ‘disciple-making’ best takes place within a small group context. Small groups provide an environment of mutual support, ministry, accountability and training. This is the New Testament model, demonstrated by Jesus himself. Small groups enable interaction, discussion and application of practical Christian life to occur in a safe open environment. Application is the focus, not just more knowledge. We want to transform people’s lives.

  3. A Life Group is a Ministry Group - ‘It is a place where Christians can develop and use their God-given gifts and abilities to help others.’

    Not every person can contribute or minister in a celebration event. However, they can within the context of a small group. In fact, small groups are one of the best places for people to discover, develop and deploy their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others. It is here that followers of Christ can truly minister to ‘one another’.

  4. A Life Group is an Outreach Group - ‘It is a place where Christians can bring their friends, neighbours and relatives in order for them to experience the life that is in Jesus Christ.’

    Small groups provide the prayer, support, encouragement and accountability that is necessary for followers of Christ to be active in reaching out to those outside of God’s family. Small groups are also the best way to assimilate new people into the church family. As Life Groups grow, they can then multiply so that loving relationships spread. 

Circles of Friendship 

We were created for community and God wants each one of us to experience authentic relationships. However, community doesn’t just “happen”. It has to be cultivated and nurtured intentionally. Of course, we don’t have the same depth of relationship with everyone we know. Each of us, like Jesus, has various circles or levels of friendship – acquaintances (lots), casual friendships (many), close friendships (some) and intimate friendships (few). Involvement in a small group of Christ-followers makes an excellent contribution to our need for community.

Sample Discussion Questions 

  1. What are some advantages of a small church? Can a large church produce this? 
  2. What are some reasons why some people are not that excited about the church getting bigger? 
  3. If there was ever persecution in our country and Christians could not meet in public places, how would the church survive? What would it look like? 
  4. Review the four purposes of a Life Group. Give your group a rating from 1 to 10 for each purpose. What are some things you could do to improve in your weakest area? 
  5. What are some of the reasons why some people choose to not become part of a Life Group? What are some ways that these ‘barriers’ or ‘obstacles’ could be overcome? 
  6. What are some ways we can make involvement in a Life Group more attractive to people? In other words, how can we highlight the benefits more effectively? 
  7. Discuss the concept of ‘circles of friendship’. What can we learn from Jesus’ relationships – with the crowd, the 70, the 12, the 3 (Peter, James and John) and John, his closest friend?
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