Small Groups Save Lives

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

The above headline makes a bold assertion. In the past few weeks, I’ve talked about how small groups restore people to God, keep people in a tight-knit community and help their members grow as disciples.

And yes, when times are tough, when much is at stake, small groups save lives.

One example is how small groups save the lives of leaders. While the idea of modern small groups is of course not fully formed in an ancient text, we see the basic concept at work in Exodus 18:13-27. Here, we are deep in the story of Moses and how he leads the Israelites out of Egypt.

At this point, Moses has been reunited with his wife and children, who have been staying with Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, a Midianite priest. Jethro is astonished by the miracles God has performed while liberating the Israelites from Egypt, but he is also concerned about how Moses is trying to handle every problem on his own.

“This is not good!” Jethro says. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too.”

Jethro’s advice is pretty simple: Find men you trust, men with high moral standards, and group the people under them to help. Moses takes the advice, at least initially.

Sadly, Moses eventually burns out anyway, the stress of leadership proving to be too much. A fit of anger while leading the recalcitrant people ultimately costs him entry into the Promised Land. No matter how smart we may think we are, we all need wise companions as we make our way through this broken world toward God’s kingdom, particularly if we are called to lead.

Small groups save lives in more direct ways, too. Churches structured around small groups have been able to do great kingdom work in the midst of terrible evil.

For example, if you don’t know the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, you should take time to learn more about it. This little French village, working mostly out of its small Protestant church, was able to save thousands of Jews from deportation and extermination during World War II. What fascinates me is how the people of Le Chambon said they never needed a planning meeting or a vote to figure out what to do.

Well before the war, the pastor had put in place a biblical system for teaching and communication. He taught a small group of leaders, each of whom then taught their own groups.

When genocide began to happen around them, the people knew biblically what God called them to do and they simply did it, using their established small-group system. They passed Jews back and forth, keeping them safe without ever having to discuss out loud what they were doing.

I once saw an interview with a church member from that era. She said that a knock might come in the middle of the night, and a church member, child in hand, would say, “Please take care of this one.”

Trust of the church, and a common biblical understanding of the need to love others in risky ways, had been established via the small groups long before the war broke out. The church members very naturally said yes to such requests, without hesitation.

Through their small-group system, they knew when to hide their charges in the woods. They knew how to call them back into the houses by singing a song. Forged papers quietly made their way from house to house, allowing many of the Jews to flee to the safety of Switzerland.

Le Chambon reminds us of the powerful, life-saving response we can make to evil when we follow common-sense biblical strategies.

Lord, grow us in our understanding of how to structure our churches along biblical lines, so we may be ready when people around us are suffering and in need. Amen.


I also have an invitation for you today. I am organizing a weekly online small group. If you want to participate, let me know. You do not have to be a member of Holston View UMC, where I am pastor, to join. It would be helpful if you are comfortable using Google Meet, or if you think you can become comfortable after a little guidance. Contact me at chuck@methodist.life.

Once I’ve worked out who is interested, we will decide together when to meet, and we will establish a particular focus for the group. We of course will be spending time in the Bible.

Small Groups, Day 1

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT): Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.


Christian, do you want to let go of pain and thrive in faith and love?

One major goal of the Methodist Life website is to encourage a resurgence in small groups as the basis of the Methodist experience. I’m going to take a few days to explore this concept. If you’re not in a Christian small group of some sort, I hope you will sense the restorative power of participating in such a group, which sadly has become a foreign idea for most American Christians.

I suppose this aversion to serious fellowship is not a new problem. Our Hebrews text above, with its phrase, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do,” is strong evidence that even the earliest Christians could be distracted from the life-changing impact of deep interaction with other believers.

Sunday schools are great, as are other educational and social groups within a church. They have their specific purposes. Don’t confuse these with small groups, however, which were the basis of the original Methodist movement that swept the world

Here’s the first major small group characteristic: “Small” is taken seriously. Most small group leaders would find that eight members are the maximum if everyone is to participate in a healthy way. The Discipleship Bands program begun at Asbury Theological Seminary recommends even smaller groups of three to five people.

If you don’t fully understand what the experience is supposed to be like, the restricted size should give you a clue. Over time, people meeting in weekly small groups should begin to have personal and confidential conversations about their faith, including their struggles. In this safe environment, Christians can find encouragement and mutual support.

Let’s be realistic—it’s hard to sit in a room with 20 people and have deep conversations about our struggles. We naturally fear that someone will gossip. In fact, when we’re really struggling, one of the loneliest places we can find ourselves is in a room full of people. If we’re going to open up to others, a tight circle of people is better.

That said, I also don’t want to scare you regarding what might happen in that private room (or these days, in that secure online meeting site). If you’ve never been in a small group, don’t think that people are going to put you in a headlock and force you to spill your secrets.

Spiritual intimacy takes time to develop. But when a small group of people understand from the outset the importance of maintaining confidentiality, they will achieve spiritual intimacy more quickly than you might think. Most groups begin by working out a covenant so rules and appropriate behaviors are clear.

Tomorrow, I’m going to explore what might at first seem to be a paradox. Small groups need to stay small, but at the same time, they’re constantly trying to draw new people into deeper Christian discipleship. Once we learn to maintain this tension, remarkable things can happen.

Lord, if you are calling us to a deeper relationship with you as we walk with others, let us sense clearly how we are to respond. Thank you for Christians who are willing to help each other grow. Amen.

Means of Grace, Day 5

By Chuck Griffin
Editor, LifeTalk

Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


Let’s take a little time today to think about the grace received while living in the Christian community called “church.”

In church, our individual experiences of grace intertwine. Working together, we find ourselves empowered in ways not possible when working alone.

That is, of course, an ideal description of the church. We tend to fall short; compare your church experiences with the above description of the early church in Acts.

I suppose we shouldn’t feel too bad. As we continue to read in Acts, we witness how the incredibly dynamic early church began to look more human as very old sins—pride, greed, ethnocentrism and deception, for example—crept in.

The church will not be heaven on earth until heaven and earth are rejoined. We are part of the “church militant,” the collection of Christians hoping to shove Satan backward, doing all we can to sustain ourselves and each other with God’s ever-flowing grace.

Even in a COVID-19 era, group worship remains deeply important to our mission. It is my prayer that once the United States exits this pandemic, we will better appreciate what it means to gather as part of a community and give glory to God. I would like to see Sunday morning restored as a uniquely holy time, not by legislation but by a genuine change in the hearts of people who call themselves Christian.

I’m not praying for a return to what we call normal. I’m praying that we will be astonished by what happens next. In a healthy local church, the number of people attending worship should exceed the number of members. This actually happens in other parts of the world. The members desperately want to be present, and the power of God is so evident that very-welcome newbies are looking in, wanting to know what’s going on.

If you have criticized your church because you think worship isn’t exciting enough, do something about it. Worship is not a show for an audience, it is a participatory group event directed toward God. Who knows, worship may not be exciting because you’re not involving your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness.

We should involve ourselves in church life in other ways, too. We should find our place in the body of Christ, understanding how the Holy Spirit seeks to change lives through us.

I am a big advocate of finding our place through participation in small groups, online or in person. Methodism originally was built around small groups, which offer opportunities for Christians to grow in trust and love for each other, study God’s word, reach out to the lost and do good works. We need to get back to the basics, knowing each other’s hearts.

Such meaningful fellowship used to give people a relationship with the church that they could find in no other institution or group. It is no wonder. Done correctly, fellowship with Christians invites the presence of the Holy, Eternal God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Lord, speak to us today as we take time to consider what it means to be part of a local church and your larger, global church. Give us a deep sense of our need to work alongside others, knowing we also will be working alongside you. Amen.