Some Hardin County churches have adopted the practice of establishing small, home group settings for Bible fellowship classes.
Crossroads Baptist Church Lead Teaching Pastor Rob Sumrall said its pattern after an early church practice mentioned in Acts 2:46.
“The church met daily in the temple and from house to house,” he said.
Other passages have Paul sending greetings to churches that met in homes and in 1 Corinthians, he said.
Citing the same passage in Acts, Bryan Kelly, Severns Valley Baptist Church home group coordinator, said the early church found in that passage is the goal for what home groups should look like.
“Those meeting in homes in Acts 2 felt safe enough to share their needs with each other and the members respond to those expressed needs led them to sell their possessions to meet those needs,” Kelly said. “They were going to the temple together to worship and meeting in each other’s homes to have meals and to have a time of fellowship.”
He said these early believers had a unity which led others to joining the group and coming to know Jesus.
Mattie Cook is in a small group at Severns Valley and said it’s helped her gain a deeper understand of God and the Bible.
“Some of my favorite moments of home group happen when the word of God comes to life through discussion of how he is personally speaking to each of us through the particular text we’re studying or a scenario were walking through,” she said. “I really have fun at group, connecting with people in my stage of life because God uses it to bless me with accountability, encouragement, conviction, laughter, compassion and practical applications to take into my week.”
For Cook, her home group means community and a way to connect with others.
“I don’t have to be a certain something or the best version of myself,” she said. “Like Christ, the group accepts me just as I am no matter what that may look like.”
Cook said home groups fill an essential sense of community.
“Throughout the Bible, we see Christ instructing that it is good for people to be in community for encouragement, sharpening, wisdom, healing through confession and support,” she said. “I’ve observed that as humans, we fundamentally desire to be known, loved and respected.”
Her relationship with God is strengthened in community of fellow believers.
“Regardless of the meeting location of our small groups, the purpose is to connect people so that they can truly do life together, serve as a support system for those in the group and make the journey of life feel a little less lonely,” said Jason Fox, small groups pastor at First Christian Church in Elizabethtown.
Severns Valley and Crossroads average about 10 home groups at each church and each church has 120 to 150 people involved.
Kelly described home groups as “a community to which you belong.” It helps to create “authentic relationships in the context of biblical community,” he said.
“Our groups meet to study God’s word, pray for and encourage one another and live on mission in the community,” he said. “Because people are messy, it’s no surprise that our groups can also be messy but we embrace this reality, and it is in the context of home groups that we learn what it means to follow Jesus in our everyday lives.”
Sumrall went on to say that there is an intimacy in meeting in someone’s home to discuss the Christian journey.
“We tend to quickly move beyond the superficial topics and deal with crucial real-life issues when we are surrounded by family photos, favorite chairs and the peculiarities of a home setting,” he said, adding it provides a less sterile setting.
It’s when the “Sunday morning facade” goes away in these small groups that deep intimacy occurs, he said.
“When things get real, true spiritual growth is unavoidable,” he said.
Fox said life doesn’t become magically great when someone becomes a Christian.
“There are times when you need to be held up, encouraged, inspired and help accountable,” he said. “Small groups is the antithesis of isolation. They really are this type of spiritual support system that can strengthen your journey in incredible ways.”
In a home group, transparent and honest discussion can occur about how Bible passages should be lived out in life, Kelly said.
It’s appealing to church members for a variety of reasons. There isn’t always time in a Sunday morning service to go to worship, go to a small group and serve somewhere, Kelly said.
“For those that are serving on Sunday morning, home groups give them the opportunity to be a part of a group that will help them grow in their Christian faith,” he said. “Meeting in a home setting is much different than in a classroom at church because the environment of a home makes it conducive to feeling more comfortable and tends to help people open up and participate more in a discussion.”
Fox said it helps in larger churches because they often can feel “overwhelming, intimidating or impersonal.”
“As an introvert myself, I can totally understand that,” he said.
Life groups allow people to engage in a smaller setting, to get to know other people well and build a level of comfort and safety that allows them to share personal stories and challenges. It’s a way to “shrink the church,” Fox said.
Because people crave community, Sumrall said these small groups help people not feel so anonymous or isolated like they do in the “social-media crazed age.”
“They have never interacted with more folks and never felt more alone,” he said of the social media experience. “The opportunity to engage others who have similar struggles and goals in the comfort of someone’s living room appeals to a deep longing in people’s hearts.”
He said in the closeness fostered in these small groups, participants talk about their struggles such as infertility, marital problems, parenting, financial difficulties and career decisions.
“They tend to do life together better,” Sumrall said.