Book Review: “Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support”

Pastor Jay Fulton in New Jersey wrote this insightful review about Brad House’s book, Community, which focuses on the importance and structure of small groups.

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As a church planter I appreciate the wealth of resources that are available to me that encourage, provide insight, or reinforce some things I might already know.  One of those resources is the book “Community: Taking Your Small Groups Off Life Support” by Brad House.  In many ways this book has helped to shift how I think about community groups and the limits I placed on them.  Quite often churches view community groups as peripheral ministry and not as essential—after all, we disciple and fellowship sufficiently on Sundays, right?  Well this was how I viewed community groups too, but the early church knew nothing of such a notion!

The reality is that the concept of Community is central to our experience in Christ and essential for discipleship and effectively spreading the Gospel.  The description of the early church found in Acts 2:42-46 provides a sketch of community that is the basis (or should be) for all that we do as church planters and leaders: “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need…continuing daily with one accord…breaking of bread from house to house, they ate food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”  Did you catch that?  The early church did “life together” on mission for God.  And the result is that God added to the church.  So why then is this kind of community lacking?

the concept of Community is central to our experience in Christ and essential for discipleship and effectively spreading the Gospel.

I won’t attempt to completely answer that question in this post, but House identifies at least once reason for this result, and that is our individualistic identities.  We tend to value individual accomplishment over group achievement.  But the church should demonstrate a collectivist view of life.  I don’t mean this in a political sense, being a populist.  But it’s how Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up the notion: “Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.”  It is through Christ that we have been reconciled to God and to one another. It is in Christ that we are united together like a family who shares the bloodline of Jesus.  Basically, the witness of community is more powerful than an individual witness.  Loving your neighbor is much easier if you never have to deal with them.  Living in light of the Gospel is much harder in community where people sin against you” (House).

“Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Having provided a foundation on which to build, House begins to outline two additional major steps for building thriving community groups: [1] redefining community groups by applying the theological and philosophical convictions to the real experience of living life together, and [2] effecting change in those groups which takes prescriptive approach to transforming community groups.

While both of these final two sections provide a detailed perspective and approach to implementing and changing community groups, I will leave you with some quotes from the book that I found to be beneficial.  In the meantime, I recommend adding this book to your reading list in the new year!

 “I have heard many purposes for joining community groups, including but not limited to: belonging, making big church feel small, learning the Bible, pastoral care, fellowship, friends, closing the back door of the church, evangelism, and so on. Each of these purposes has merit and can be argued as essential to the church. I would suggest, however, that these “purposes” are in fact the product of community rather than its ultimate goal.”

“In the case of the church, our goal is to produce disciples of Jesus who worship him and exalt his name. If we aim at a product such as belonging as the purpose of community, we can achieve that goal without pointing to Jesus.” 

“When retaining people becomes our goal, we inadvertently communicate that our purpose is to grow the church rather than glorify God. We become more interested in building the church rather than advancing the kingdom. We lift up the church rather than the name of Jesus.”

“As we prepare to change the direction of community groups in our churches, we must take time to look at what God has called the church to be. Where we have missed the mark, we should follow the example of Josiah and lead our people in repentance.”

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