Your people will not grow on their own.
In fact, we can’t fulfill any of God’s purposes on our own – and spiritual maturity isn’t an exception. Trying to help your congregation become more Christ-like without developing the relationships within the church is like fighting an impossible battle.
Unfortunately, our culture’s idolatry of individualism has influenced even the way we think about spiritual growth. So much of the teaching on spiritual formation is self-centered and self-focused, without any reference to our relationship to other Christians. This is completely unbiblical and ignores much of the New Testament.
The truth is that Christians need relationships to grow. We don’t grow in isolation from others. We develop in the context of fellowship. Over and over again in the New Testament we find this basic truth: Believers need relationships with each other to grow! Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another ..." God intends for us to grow up in a family.
I’ve long believed that relationships are the "glue" that keep people connected to our churches. But relationships play an even more important role in moving people to maturity. They are absolutely essential for spiritual growth.
According to the New Testament, fellowship is not optional for a Christian. It is mandatory! Christians that are not connected in loving relationships with other believers are disobeying all the "one another" commands given in God’s Word.
John tells us that the proof that we are walking in the light is that we have fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7). If you’re not having regular fellowship with other believers, you should seriously question whether or not you are really walking in the light. Trying to walk in the light without fellowship with other believers is a futile activity.
John goes even further to suggest that we ought to question whether we really are saved if we don’t love other believers. "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death." (1 John 3:14) If relationships with other believers are this important, why don’t we hear more emphasis on it in churches?
The quality of your relationship to Christ can be seen in the quality of your relationship to other believers. "For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." (1 John 4:20) Notice that John says, "cannot." It is impossible to love God if you don’t love his children.
Jesus taught that if you are out of fellowship with a brother, your worship is worthless (Matt. 5:23-24). A Christian cannot be in fellowship with God and out of fellowship with believers at the same time.
By the way, one reason many Christians never witness is because they don’t know how to relate to people, regardless of what they believe! Because they’ve never been in a small group or developed friendships, they have few relational skills. They can’t relate to unbelievers because they can’t even relate to believers! They must be taught how to develop relationships. This, to me, seems obvious and yet very few churches do any teaching to their members on how to relate to each other.
This is why small groups are so critical to the life of your church. Unless you are helping your members develop relationships with one another, you’re not helping them grow. In fact, good small groups help members grow in all of God’s purposes – worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.
If you’d like to learn more about developing purpose driven small groups, don’t miss our upcoming Purpose Driven Small Group Conference, Feb. 20-22, on our Saddleback campus. During the conference, our small group team at Saddleback will help you draw up your own plans for improving or starting your small group ministry.
We hope to see you there!
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.