I’m a form follows function kind of person, which means that I think we need to know a thing’s purpose before we can design it or evaluate its effectiveness. Take a knife, for example. The purpose or function of a knife is to cut things. This function requires the design to include at least one sharp edge, and we’ll evaluate the knife on how well it cuts. I think the same is true of groups – form must always follow function.

What, then, is the function of church small groups, whether they be Sunday School classes or a midweek meetings? The most ready answer is discipleship, but that doesn’t quite go far enough. You see, very often when we talk about discipleship we assume that we are talking about the transfer of information – think here of a sermon or a lecture. This is indeed part of discipleship, but it is not the whole. The other side of discipleship is caring community. Think of it this way: Jesus’ disciples were present for his teachings, which amounted to fantastic transfers of information from the Master Teacher himself. After they heard the teachings, though, they ate dinner together around the campfire. It was in the campfire moments that they talked together about what Jesus had said. And it was in the campfire moments that they developed a Jesus-centered community and lived out (or at least tried to live out!) the principles that Jesus taught. When it comes to church, we should think about the sermon as the community’s primary transfer of information and small groups as the campfire moments where Jesus-centered communities are formed.

Small groups are meant to be Jesus-centered communities that seek to care for one another in the name of Jesus and learn of and walk in the way of Jesus together.

This definition gives a few function statements for small groups:

  1. Small groups should encourage deep relationships among their members.
  2. Small groups should encourage genuine and practical care among members when needs arise.
  3. Small groups should learn about and walk in the way of Jesus together.

So, how is your group doing when it comes to achieving the purposes just listed? If any of the elements is missing, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. When the elements are held together, though, kingdom kinds of things start to happen.