Intro: Anyone know what this is? Show body ball.
Explain use of it, full body workout with attention on core.
Why is core so important?
• Strengthens your back
Basically, when your core grows smaller…you can grow stronger.
As a local church, a body of born again believers…if we are going to grow stronger, we too would benefit from growing smaller.
Transition: Benefits of small groups
God never intended Christianity to be a "Me, God, and my Bible" lifestyle.
The Bible teaches that we also need each other for many reasons.
Read 1 Cor. 12:12-17
This is where the small group Bible study ministry kicks in.
We need to experience life together…and like I said last week, that takes place when we come together for corporate worship.
When the disciples of Jesus met Him for the final time on that hillside prior to His ascension, the first thing they did was worship.
They were so in awe of the resurrected Christ…it just seemed natural for them to do that.
For us, it shouldn’t be any different.
When we gather together on this hill, we should be so in awe of Christ, who He is and what He has done for us…true worship should be 2nd nature.
That is level one growth, experiencing and celebrating the life we have in Christ.
Now we want to take it to the next level…and in taking to the next level we need to grow smaller.
We need to move out of the worship center and into smaller more intimate settings so that true growth and true discipleship can take place.
This can be done in the Sunday School hour, taking place on Sunday mornings at 9:30.
It can also take place in specialized Bible studies, such as First Place or specific group studies like for men or women.
Another form of small group Bible study is called Small groups, and they are growing in popularity in Christian churches and homes throughout the world as a way for us to make the connections we need with fellow believers.
These Small group fellowships—whether focused on Bible studies or on a wide variety of activities—have a tremendous impact on those who participate.
Whatever route you choose to take, or we offer…what is important is that you as a born again believer step up and step out so that you can take your life to the next level.
Listen to what the Scriptures says:
Read Prov. 27:17 and pray.
You take a bunch of knives put them into a box with a sharpener, close the lid and shake them up really hard…how sharp will they become?
Some might get a little sharper, but chances are most of them will simply remain the same.
But if you take that single knife and that sharpener and work with them, you will see significant improvement, a sharpening.
It takes that extra attention to details to make that improvement.
That is where a small group Bible study comes it, it gets us out of the big box and allows us to get the more detailed attention that sharpens us and prepares us for the work God has prepared for us…which we will look at next week.
This morning as we consider growing smaller, I want us to consider what factors make small group ministry so important in the life of the local church.
The first factor is this…
1. The Jesus Factor
Jesus used a small group ministry approach to discipleship.
Read Mark 3:14-ff.
Jesus did a lot of ministry to the masses:
• Sermon on the Mount (Teaching on Wednesday nights)
• Feeding of the 5000
• Teaching in the synagogues
Along with this though, He devoted extra time and effort to the 12.
He may have taught the parables to the masses, but He would take time to explain it to the 12.
Jesus believed in small group ministry.
While He did a lot of mass evangelism, the depth of His teachings took place with the 12.
As a pastor I have a lot to cover in a small amount of time…and as a result I can only skim on some areas and touch on others.
But when you get into a small group study, there you can truly get into the Word…digging in and letting it dig into you.
Disciples are made in small groups.
And we have Jesus as our example.
So, there is the Jesus factor, 2nd there is…
2. The Ministry Factor
God has called us as born again believers to use our gifts, skills, experiences and talents to minister to one another,
Part of the reason for that is that God doesn’t expect pastors and teachers to do all the ministering.
He has given each of us gifts and talents to encourage, teach and challenge one another.
Small groups provide the perfect setting for Christians to minister one to another.
Read Hebrews 10:23-25
We are called to stir each other to love and good works…and I can’t think of a better place than from within a small group.
When a need is to be met, who better than to meet that need than those who know each other best…your small group.
A small group will allow for you to have a first line of defense for ministry to take place in your life, and for you to perform ministry.
And I’ll be honest, I think that is one of the beauties of being in and being part of a small group…the ministry factor.
Group members support one another, both during meetings and outside them.
We can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Read 2 Cor. 1:3-4
We as born again believers are going to face troubles and afflictions in this life, but it is the will of God that when this happens we should be comforted.
When these times come, God’s chosen instruments that He employs and makes use of in this way are His ministering servants and their principal work and business it is to speak comfortably to the people of God.
You will find them in the masses at time, in the corporate worship setting…but more often than not, those who do best are those you are closest to; those you are growing smaller with.
Let me ask you, who do you have you ministered to lately?
Do you have someone who you know you can respond to when they are in need?
Has someone responded to you in your time of need?
If you have a small group, you have a first line of defense to reach out to you.
So…we have the Jesus factor, the Ministry factor and thirdly we have…
3. The Faith Factor
Small group members can encourage each other in their faith and growth.
We strengthen each other’s faith in a smaller setting that can never be accomplished in a larger setting like this.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul taught us that when we see the faith in another believer, it encourages us in our own faith.
Read Romans 1:11-12
Regardless of a group’s focus or format, after a while people are likely to share personal insights and testimonies.
When people share, other group members see new ways they can draw closer to God and new steps they can take with others.
This is so hard, if not impossible in a larger worship format.
How can you be encouraged by the faith of someone…or vice versa, when the only contact you have is in passing during an hour of cooperate worship.
But in a small group setting, it is not only possible…but it happens.
There is nothing like a word of encouragement when someone feels hopeless or discouraged.
That is possible in a small group format.
The Greek word used in Rom. 1:12 that is translated as either “comforted” or “encouraged” in most of our translations is “sumparakaleō” can be translated as:
1) to call upon or invite or exhort at the same time or together
2) to strengthen (comfort) with others.
The image I get here is rope…multiple strands of string bound together for strength.
ILLUS: Ask for a volunteer, use a strand of thread, have it broken (representing worship)
Now add to it (wrap thread around hands once for each topic) worship, Bible study, friendships, prayer partners, those you minister to, those who minister to you, the faith you bring to the table, the faith other brings to the bring…and what happens?
There is a great verse in Ecclesiastes, that Brigitte and I have engraved in our wedding bands:
Read Eccl. 4:12
If your church experience begins at 11 and ends at 12…when tough times come you can be literally hanging by a thread.
But by simply taking the time to give an extra hour or two…your faith can and will be strengthened greatly and it will not be broken so easily.
Let’s review again…
There is the Jesus factor, the Ministry factor, the Faith factor and finally we have…
4. The Accountability Factor
Group members hold each other accountable.
If someone announces he or she plans to work on making a change, other members of the group may ask how it went the next time they get together.
This can be done in a friendly, informal way.
Or group members may make a plan to be accountable to each other.
Remember what Prov. 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Likewise, when people know they will be meeting with a small group of friends, they are motivated to do their homework and memorize the weekly Bible verse.
In a large setting like corporate worship if you are out for a week or two…it may or may not be noticed; but if you are missing from a small group, they notice.
You’ll have someone following up with you saying, “Hey…how are you doing?”
There is a whole new level of accountability you can get in a small group Bible study that you can never achieve by being here only for worship.
And I realize that for some, that accountability is a very long 4 letter word that you would rather disregard…the idea of letting someone into your life like that probably scares you to death.
Well, perhaps you need to sacrifice that on the alter and make it your living sacrifice.
God has called you to be all that you can be, are you doing what is necessary for that?
Now I realize there may be someone or a few someone’s in here who think I am picking on them or trying to point them out, “Well, I’m only here for worship, and that preacher is talking to me.”
No I’m not…but the Holy Spirit might be.
I sincerely believe that God wants all of us to take things to the next level…as individual believers and as a church.
And today, you may be thinking I’m picking on you…let not your heart be troubled, I’m going to be picking on someone else next week.
And the following week, someone else.
And this whole time, I’m being picked on too.
We need to take things to the next level.
We need a simple, practical and effective form of discipleship that will help each of us become fruit bearing followers of Christ.
It begins with corporate worship and requires us to take a step up to the next level.
Let me ask you, how do you need to respond?
Do you feel that your level of commitment is just fine for you?
OK…is it fine with God? What would he have you do?
If you are here this morning and your level of commitment is “pre-Christian” I want to invite you to drop the “pre” this morning.
If you are a born again believer, once again, what do you need to do to take things to the next level?
How do you need to respond?
Committing to a small group Bible study?
Committing more to that small group Bible study?
Uniting with this church in membership?
Entering into the waters of baptism?