No look back at Bob Girard’s Brethren, Hang Loose would be complete without revisiting the topic of house groups.
“The ‘great revivals’ of American history were nearly always preceded and followed by small groups meeting for prayer and personal renewal.” (page 131)
Some churches call them “cell groups”, others call them “small groups”. For what it’s worth, the Vineyard used to call them “kinships”. Regardless of the name, the point of these groups was for spiritual growth and deeper relationships.
The “church gathered” in a corporate sense is an important touchstone in the spiritual rhythm of the Body. It can be a time of instruction, encouragement, and worship. Small groups, on the other hand, are where we can share our lives on a much more personal level than a larger meeting can facilitate.
“They [small groups] seem to us to be the nearest thing we had seen to the kind of natural setting where the life of the church could become ‘the Shared Life’. They seemed the kind of church structure which would allow the Holy Spirit the most freedom to do what He wanted to do in and through the Body.” (page 131)
It would be very easy, at this point, to point out the many positive opportunities that small groups provide for mutual prayer, the use of spiritual gifts, learning together through Bible study, and so on.
But as Girard points out, what sets these groups apart from simple social gatherings is their intentional focus on discipleship. There is nothing wrong with gathering socially per se (that’s why God gave us BBQ’s), but let’s not confuse that with discipleship.
For those small groups which lose their sense of intentionality, Girard offers this sobering observation:
“Whenever a group finds its oneness in the flesh (they meet together not for the primary purpose of knowing Christ better, but because they are friends) you can count on it — that group will sooner or later expire. The flesh can maintain it for a while, but ultimately, the group build around the flesh will dissolve.” (page 150)
By all means, let’s celebrate and enjoy our friendships. Let’s set aside time to simply “hang out” together.
But let’s also be aware that gathering as a group of disciples is a different thing, and while there may be overlap, there must be a degree of intentionality in our purpose if growing as disciples is important to us.