There are many reasons that could be given why community is important. Some common answers to the “why we do community” question might be discipleship, care, friendship, or church growth. While these answers are important byproducts of community, they are just that: byproducts. We can’t take the fruit of healthy, gospel-centered community and turn it into the reason why we do it. Our foundational reason for why we have community groups in our church is to image God and proclaim the good news of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross.
By imaging God, what we mean is this: the God of this Bible is Trinitarian, and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have eternally existed in relationship with one another as one God in three persons. Because we are created in the image of God, we were made to exist in community. This is why community groups are essential to the Christian life. We were built to function in relationship with one another and with God.
Reflecting the image of God was a gift to mankind that was not shared with any other created being. Yet it is a gift that we forfeited through sin and rebellion. Sin always separates what God joins together and the result is isolation, division, and fragmentation. Christians certainly aren’t the only ones to lament the fragmentation of society. Christian or not, we all have an intrinsic need for community. We all suffer from the isolation that sin breeds.
What sin has broken, Jesus has reconciled. Apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection, community is not possible. 2 Corinthians 5:18 says that God reconciled the world to himself through the cross of Christ. Not only are we reconciled to God through the cross, we are are joined together in community. Additionally, Ephesians 2:19-20 says this: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
Community is for us a declaration of the overwhelming love of God, a tangible proclamation of the reconciling work of the cross. This is a truly compelling reason to build community groups within our churches.
Once we understand the real reason why we do community, now we can look at the purpose community serves. Jesus states the purpose for the church plainly in Matthew 28:19: go and make disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus, reflecting the image of God through identity in Jesus, and expressing that identity through worship to God, community in church, and mission in the world. We gather in community groups with our friends and neighbors to live life together and experience the gospel in ways we can’t on our own. Community Groups are a place to wrestle with the truths of the Bible, love one another, serve the city, and participate in the mission of God for Mars Hill.
The reason that the New Testament is filled with commands to love, teach, admonish, and rebuke one another is that by discipling one another, we are not only learning, but also we are teaching the gospel. Instead of one teacher with many disciples, we create a community of disciples who are discipling one another. Teachers have long known that this is the best way to learn because you must know your subject well to teach it to others. In this way, as the Word is preached and then applied in community, we can disciple an entire population effectively and efficiently.
A Community Group is a group of disciples who live life together for the purpose of sanctification and glory to God. Consequently we expect that the same attributes of a disciple would be present in community. Simply, a Community Group is group of disciples who find their identity in Jesus, worship Jesus together, care for one another, spur each other toward godliness, and own the mission to see more people know Jesus. A Community Group is not an event. It’s a lifestyle of discipleship.
The mission of Mars Hill Church is huge. Our goal is to transform our cities and see the name of Jesus exalted. For those of us without a microphone, website, blog, or another platform, it can be difficult to grasp how we fit into the plan. This is where the Neighborhood Approach comes in.
The concept is simple. Although your Community Group may not be able to serve the whole city, it can serve your block and your neighborhood. If the other groups in your neighborhood do the same, and the groups in your church serve their neighborhoods, eventually we can transform a city. What makes this more significant is the fact that you and your group can reach people and people groups that would never step foot in church. You have to opportunity to reach the lost within your group at a deeper level then a church service ever could, and therefore reach people who otherwise would never hear the gospel. As Sunday gatherings and Community Groups work together, this city will never be the same.
The Community Group organizational structure is simply:
It is important to note that this structure is lived out within the neighborhood strategy, allowing us to accomplish the purposes described above.
Pastoral Care. One of the primary functions of community groups within the church is pastoral care (counseling, discipleship, etc.). Our structure has been designed to ensure that every active member of the church is being shepherded by a leader, coach, or pastor.
Discipleship. The leadership structure provides relationships for discipleship and growth. This gives us an avenue for growth and maturation as well as leadership development within the church, allowing members to grow as leaders and fulfill their calling. The structure provides a network through which discipleship can naturally occur within relationships that are consistent and intentional.
Mission. One of the purposes of the leadership structure is to implement the vision and accomplish the mission of the church. The structure is designed to promote ownership of the mission of Mars Hill Church at the group level as they carry out the mission in their neighborhood. We intentionally build our structure around geographic regions to emphasize the neighborhood strategy.
Administration. Though less sexy than the shepherding purposes above, the structure of groups does provide some other necessary functions. A good structure facilitates communication throughout the body. It provides channels for communicating vision and values as well as needs in an efficient and effective way. In this way, it also allows leaders to be more a part of the leadership process of the church. The leadership structure provides us with enough oversight that we can empower you as a leader to employ the concepts outlined in the vision section to express community in new and unique ways. By providing a consistent structure we have freedom in the way community is expressed in particular contexts.
Pastor Brad House calls on churches to wake up to the possibilities for life-transforming, gospel ministry through small groups. In recent years Mars Hill Church, based in Seattle, has experienced the rich blessings that exist within healthy community groups. In Community, House provides a resource for other churches to experience these blessings.
House examines healthy, gospel-centered small groups in three sections. In the first, he lays a foundation for the need and purpose of small-group community. He then presents a big-picture “health plan” for small groups, looking closely at the nuts and bolts of small-group ministry. The book ends with a practical section detailing ways churches can move forward to missional small groups that bless each other, the church, and their communities.
With wisdom and candor, House helps churches think carefully about the state of their own small groups and, where necessary, take steps toward a healthier, gospel-centered community. Pastors and church leaders, as well as small groups, will find this guide to be a catalyst in their growth and development.
More resources coming soon...