What would an ideal fellowship of the Spirit look like? Start with informal fellowships. It might be three couples dining out and sharing what God is doing in their lives. It might be four friends at a coffee shop talking about a new faith insight one of them had. It might be a Christian caregiver sharing her biblical perspective on dying and what happens next. It might be four men, after the funeral of a friend, sharing their questions and convictions about what happens after death. Ideally, members of a congregation get involved in many fellowships of the Spirit beyond what happens in their church programs.
Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there is my Spirit with them” (Matthew 18:20). Remember after his ascension Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand. He is present with us now through the Holy Spirit, sent by him and his Father.
When an individual or couple is together with friends, their fellowship is not necessarily a fellowship of the Spirit. That happens when portions of their time turn to discussing their Christian faith. A more formal fellowship of the Spirit is where a gathering is small enough that everyone can comfortably get into the conversation. That would be a maximum of ten or fifteen.
Remember that in the first several centuries Christians met in house churches, which usually could not accommodate more than 30. These small communities were natural fellowships of the Spirit. It was in this context that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Christian congregations today usually assemble in numbers like 100, or 500, or 2,000. How can congregations today facilitate more fellowships of the Spirit in their midst? More than likely, these will be in small groups.
Formally developing small groups became a compelling movement among mission-oriented churches in the last thirty years. I started my church plant using the material from Small Group Evangelism. When the evening came to bring a friend, it turned out that all their friends were themselves well churched Lutherans. The core group did not know many people other than those like themselves.
I have served two churches where developing small groups was a high priority. We worked hard at it. Some groups functioned as intended. But we never got more than ten or so groups going. I figure we had at most 5% of the members involved in such small groups.
Why? Most did not understand what could happen, nor were they looking for greater fellowship. The south suburbs of Cleveland have extensive networks of relatives descended from ethnic families. They have all the community they could desire without special effort.
Where small groups do take off is in growing communities with young professionals moving in for work-related reasons, like Plano, Texas, or Carmel, Indiana. Newly arrived young adults are looking for friendships with others. Some small group programs in those settings can have astonishing growth.
A big obstacle to having a thriving small group program is the necessity for participants to find a time and a location to meet together. Meeting at church makes sense, but meeting in someone’s home might be more convenient. The greatest obstacle is making time to meet. For most families with children, this will be after the bedtime of their children. All have plenty of other claims on their time.
What would happen if finding a mutually agreeable time and location was removed as an obstacle? This is possible to achieve when participants do their interaction online at a time convenient to each without having to drive for ten or twenty minutes to arrive at church.
Do you have fellowships of the Spirit beyond your congregation–groupings that occasionally talk about what God is doing in their lives? What has been your experience with small groups in your church life?