By Joel Comiskey, free teaching videos on leading small groups, Spring 2021
Many pastors get excited when they hear about evangelism in small groups. They are tired of closed, inward-looking groups and catch a new vision for groups that focus on evangelism, outreach, and multiplication. These pastors want to encourage their members to reach their neighbors and minister to those without Jesus.
But evangelism is not the whole story.
Community and intimate sharing is essential for at least two reasons:
- Community is biblical
- Community enhances outreach
Jesus loves the church. He died for her. Jesus longs for community and love within his church. After washing the disciple’s feet in John 13 he said to them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34). Notice that Jesus is talking to his small group. Others would notice Christ’s impact in their lives when they showed supernatural love to one another. Jesus desires the same for small groups today.
Sometimes the best witness is for others to see love among a diverse group of people. New people notice quickly when a group is welcoming and walking in Christ’s unity. True love among the members is the most attractive witness for unbelievers. And as Jesus says in John 13:34, it’s a key mark of discipleship. Every group will face conflict. The critical issue is whether the group will allow Jesus to overcome the conflict and create love and intimacy in the group.
But what about stagnation and avoiding a club mentality? Yes, it’s true that many pastors fear inward-looking groups. Jim Egli and I did a study of 1800 small group leaders in four language groups: English, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish. We discovered that those groups with the deepest intimacy were also better at reaching non-Christians. We discovered that far from hindering outreach, community strengthens evangelism. Those groups that were the most intimate were also the most effective at reaching out.
This study by Jim Egli and me embodied in the book Groups that Thrive changed my perspective. I’m now fully convinced of the necessity of small group love and community. I now realize that community is essential for effective outreach.
Covid-19 has also been a wake-up call for the group community. More and more churches are realizing that small groups are the ideal place to practice love and community. Large group celebration events don’t engender community and are volatile to tragedies like an infectious disease. Is that one key reason why Jesus chose to initiate his church in a small group?