3 Reasons to Require Small Group Participation for Church Members

by Joshua Hedger July 5, 2016

At Emmaus, active participation in Community Groups is a requirement for covenant membership. Often times I tell pastors this and they say, “You mean you expect active participation?” No, I mean that we require it. When signing the covenant, members are committing to active participation in a community group. If someone begins to slack in this commitment, their group leader has discussions with them to see how they are, where they are, and how we can help them get plugged back in. If it is an ongoing issue, then it ultimately is a cause for removal of membership. Perhaps this sounds hard or too strict to you. We believe it simply should be expected.

Here are 3 reasons why: 

We believe everyone needs to know and be known.

If you polled your church, you would have people who crave relationships. They are eager to share everything about themselves and to learn everything about someone else. It seems that no matter how many opportunities you offer them for community, it’s never enough. Others in your church would be completely content never diving deep into conversations, never knowing the details of someone else’s life, and never sharing about themselves. Most of your church would fall somewhere between these two extremes. 

Regardless of what someone feels, we believe that everyone in our church needs to know and to be known. 

Why? Paul tells us in Romans 15 that we are to live in harmony with one another, that we would glorify God with one voice, and that we would welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Further, Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one. Unity in the gospel is vitally important. We do not believe that you can truly be unified or that you can truly welcome each other as Christ welcomed us, if we do not know each other in all of our sins, brokenness, hopes, and dreams. One of the reasons our church walks in such intense unity, is that we know each other. 

Our groups begin with a season of stories. This is a time where every person in the group must share 10 minutes about their story. Some people dive into the depths of their hearts in this season, revealing their hurts, joys, and struggles. Others try to stay as surface level as they can, afraid to share, worried of rejection, and embarrassed to talk. But I have seen time and time again, people who seldom talk or engage in deep conversation begin to share their story in fear, only to go on and on in detail, as if the floodgates of relief have opened up as they are finally able to tell their story to someone who listens intently, and who has committed to love them no matter what.

Our hearts need to be known. We need to escape the cage of our thoughts. We need to break free from the perceived protection of anonymity. 

We also need to know. I realize that size of churches can make it hard, and even impossible to know everyone. But you can know someone, and that person knows someone else. So, how does this contribute to our unity? 

When I know someone’s story - the way they have been rejected and abused, the way they have been manipulated and used, the fears they’ve had, the worries they carry, the successes they’ve lived, and the hopes they embrace - I suddenly feel connected to them. I have compassion for them, I give grace when I would have been frustrated, and I love when I would have rejected. Their story connects me to them. I need to know them. 

By requiring all members to be active participants in Community Groups, we help everyone to know and be known. 

We value confession and repentance. 

We believe that the scriptures call us to confess our sins to one another so that we may be healed. There is healing that comes in confession, repentance, and accountability. There is healing that comes from not hiding in the shame of our sin, but revealing it. There is healing that comes in not walking alone, but having support and accountability in the midst of the war for our holiness. 

We believe that this is so important that we practice it in our worship gatherings. Every week we sing about God’s greatness, then sing about our sin, and then we corporately and privately confess our sin. In that corporate setting, we do this by all reading a prayer of confession together, admitting our rebellion. Then we take a few moments to privately pray, asking God to reveal our sins and repenting of them. 

We desire to carry this out in a more personal way in our groups. Our group discussions are sermon based and gospel-centered. We ask the group questions that give us all the opportunity to search our hearts and confess and repent of our sins. In the group environment, this looks more personal. Each person can share more details about their sins. We have a “do not rescue” rule, meaning others in the group can’t help a person justify their sin, simply feel better about their struggles, or not deal with their sin fully. Instead, we ask questions, diving deeper and deeper into the rebellious heart to reveal what needs to be confessed and repented of.  

We must equip the saints to do the work of the ministry.

By requiring all members to actively participate in Community Groups, we are instilling opportunity. Ephesians tells us that the saints should be equipped to do the work of the ministry. We do not believe that serving as a greeter, playing in the band, or even teaching kids classes at church suffice for this passage is referring to. These were not ministry positions in the church at Ephesus.

Rather, the context shows us that Paul is saying that the saints should be equipped to use their gifts and build each other up, encouraging each other, and helping each other grow in maturity to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we will not be led astray by false doctrine, human cunning, and deceitful schemes. Paul wants the church to be equipped to minister to each other and help each other grow in the truth of God’s word. 

Our groups have leaders, but these leaders are not teachers. Instead they are people who lead out in caring for their groups and facilitating the discussions. Everyone in the group is encouraged and able to speak into each other, to minister to one another. When someone confesses sin, the other members in the group speak into it. They encourage them with the gospel; that they are not saved by their own merit, but by the finished work of Jesus. They exhort them to pursue healing, kill the sin, and rest in Christ’s love of them. 

By requiring all members to be actively participating in Community Groups, we are equipping all members to do the work of the ministry.