Part 1: A Vision for Gospel-Centered Small Groups

Gary Purdy

Life-changing small group environments are less about how-tos and more about experiencing Christ. They are not focused on building head knowledge but on changing hearts and minds. These communities not only equip their members for service but also expose sin and call people to adore Christ. Christ-centered communities transform lives from the inside out

The Biblical and Theological Basis for Small Groups

The apostle Paul describes a transformational community in Colossae as he gives thanks to God for an explosion of the gospel in their midst. He writes,

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace. (Colossians 1:3-6, New Living Translation)

Paul thanks God for the contagious faith in Christ and love for fellow Christians that springs organically from the gospel. The Colossian church’s ongoing belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ resulted in the fruit of changed lives. They experienced transformation in their community because of the power of the gospel and their continuing captivation with the hope that comes from Christ.

The gospel is not just what non-Christians need to begin a relationship with God. The gospel is also the way individuals and communities grow spiritually. Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, writes,

The gospel is not just the “A-B-C” but the “A-Z” of the Christian life. The gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom [of God], but it is the way to address every problem and is the way to grow at every step. ... It tells us that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted than [we] ever dared hope — at the same time. In fact, if the gospel is true, the more you see your sin, the more certain you are that you were saved by sheer grace and [the] more precious and electrifying that grace is to you.

How Gospel-Centered Small Groups Lead to Transformation

If we desire to see heart transformation in our small group communities, we must do something more fundamental than equipping people to share the gospel (though we cannot neglect equipping). We must help them experience the gospel. We need the electrifying grace of the gospel to grip the hearts of people in our small groups because it is the gospel that continuously transforms people.

When experiencing the person of Jesus is the central focus of a group, people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds can all benefit greatly. If the gospel is the A-Z and not just the A-B-C, then what individual Christians, the Christian community, and those who do not yet have a relationship with God ultimately need is the person of Jesus Christ.

In a Christ-centered community, individual Christians are invited to open up honestly about their lives and see how the Bible applies to their lives. As individuals enter into one another’s lives and the Bible, trust and care develop among group members. When group members share in a journey of applying the gospel to their lives, they begin to experience Jesus’ love for one another.

As Jesus becomes more real to your group members, imagine how they might genuinely talk about Christ to their friends who do not know Him. Imagine that dialogue continuing over time until it becomes natural to invite those friends to their open, Christ-centered small group communities. 

Imagine a person from a fractured family finding a warm spiritual family. Imagine a person who is turned off by self-righteous Christians hearing Christians honestly sharing their struggles. Imagine a person who needs more than one conversation to come to Christ being able to come back each week. This is the environment of a Christ-centered community.

See “Part 2: Building a Gospel-Centered Small Group” to learn how to create this sort of environment. 

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