By Michael C. Mack
QUESTION: Should we worship in our small group?
ANSWER: Does a heart belong in the human body? Does an operating system belong on a computer? Does peanut butter go well with jelly? Does chocolate belong in a chocolate chip cookie?
Worship makes a small group run. It’s what holds it together. It’s what makes a sweet aroma, pleasing to God.
The question about whether worship belongs in a small group usually comes from Christians who believe for some reason, and with no biblical support, that worship should be reserved for a certain place (the church building) at a certain time (Sunday morning) in a certain way (singing hymns or praise choruses). Yet Jesus obliterated that way of thinking in his conversation with the woman at the well in John 4:21–24, and the apostle Paul backed him up (as if it were necessary) in Romans 12:1.
Worship has been a part of small group gatherings outside formal worship centers since the beginning of the church, with some pretty spectacular results as confirmation. Jesus and his disciples worshipped together in the upper room at the Last Supper (Mark 14:26). The believers praised God together when Peter and John were released from prison, and “the place where they were meeting was shaken” (see Acts 4:23–31). On another occasion, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken” (Acts 16:25, 26).
Wherever God’s people gather together, it is natural for them to worship. How they worship God is not as important as the fact they choose to worship him. When they do, God shakes things up!
Why Some Small Groups Don’t Worship
Worship belongs in small groups, but many factors keep groups from entering into it:
Intellectualism. When knowledge of the Bible is the main objective, God gets crowded out. Agendaitus is a problem. The group simply does not have time in their tight schedule for worship and meaningful prayer.
Self-centeredness. The question must be asked, “For whom does this group exist?” If the answer is “me, my family, and our needs,” it’s time to reassess your group’s purpose and mission.
Never thought of it. Many long-standing groups have simply never connected “worship” with “small group.” Worship has never been held up as a group value, so they don’t practice it.
No true experience in worship. Some group members may be inexperienced in true worship—sure, they have sung some songs, but they haven’t worshipped in spirit and truth—so they don’t look for it in the group.
Spiritual warfare. Satan does whatever he can to prevent us from spending time with God. He hates it when we come together to worship God in spirit and in truth.
What God Does When Groups Worship
A small group yielded to God will naturally spend time in worship and prayer. When its members do, God pours out his love and power into them. People grow in Christlikeness as they come close to God through worship and prayer. As Calvin Coolidge said, “It is only when men begin to worship that they begin to grow.” The fruit of spending time with God as a group is ministry together, as the overflow of their hearts pours into the lives of people around them.
Truly transformational small groups are groups that focus on God, his will, his Word, and his ways. When we worship, even in groups as small as two or three, we welcome Christ into our presence (Matthew 18:20).
Practicing Christ’s Presence
Someone once said, “Never have a meeting to which you cannot invite Christ.” What great advice! Here’s how to do just that in your group:
Discuss Christ’s presence when you gather. A few passages you can study together include Matthew 18:20; John 1:1-18 (v. 14 is the key); John 17 (especially v. 18); Zechariah 2:8-12; Daniel 3; and Revelation 21:1-7. Discuss how you can apply the principles in these passages to experiencing Christ’s presence in your group meetings, as well as how different your gatherings might be if you experienced Christ’s presence consistently.
Abandon the ordinary, comfortable, and normal to see Christ’s presence. Perhaps it’s time for your group to move out of some of its normal group practices to see Christ Jesus anew. Here are two ideas:
• Meet outdoors in the backyard, on a walk, or at a park, and take time to observe God’s creation all around you. How do you notice his presence through his creation?
• Break the holy huddle. Invite new people, especially new Christ followers and seekers, to the meeting. Engage with them in their search, and ask how they currently see God working.
Practice listening to God’s voice. Help group members hear God’s voice. When they know the shepherd’s voice and are listening to him throughout the week, they will recognize his presence all the more when you gather together. Urge them to practice solitude and ask God to speak in that still, small voice that Elijah described in 1 Kings 19:12.
Pray as if Christ were in the room (because he is). Most groups I’ve visited focus more on man and his concerns than Christ and his will during prayer times. We spend 20 minutes or more sharing personal “prayer requests,” which focus on our problems, our circumstances, and our friends and family members. Then we pray all this back to God, as if he weren’t present or listening to us. While sharing requests, group members often jump in with fixes; recommendations of doctors, books, and websites; or Scripture passages that come to mind. This activity makes it clear whose power the group members are most reliant upon. Man! Change your prayer time to focus more on God’s concerns and to recognize that he really is present—and powerful—as you pray.
Do worship and prayer belong in a small group? Yes! Right at the center of it.
Portions of this article are adapted from Leading from the Heart and Small Group Vital Signs (TOUCH Outreach Ministries).
Michael Mack is the author of 14 small group books and discussion guides, including I’m a Leader . . . Now What? (Standard Publishing). He also leads church training events and consults with churches through his ministry, Small Group Leadership (www.smallgroupleadership.com).