Reflection on: Why We Are Going From Small Groups to Sunday School by Jim Davis

The points that Jim Davis presents are well worth considering. While I understand the intent of small groups and see them as historically sound, from Zinzendorf to Wesley, I believe that the points that Davis presents here are dead on where many churches have dropped the ball: Biblical knowledge, Developing of Teaching Gifts, Deeper Community, Cultural Engagement, and fulfilling the Role of the Chruch.

1) Biblical Knowledge – Do a quick search on Biblical Illiteracy and more than 71,000 results come up. The first three listed are “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches“, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” and “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy.” It is recognized across the board that Biblical Illiteracy is a problem in the church today. Davis presents why the small group model is often not enough to counter this.

2) Developing of Teaching Gifts – Romans 12:6 – 8 tells us “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” While small groups have a reason for existing, they do not allow the opportunity for those with teaching gifts to truly exercise and develop them.

3) Deeper Community – As Davis states, this one seems counter intuitive. Most churches will tell you that one of the purposes of small groups is to develop community.  Yet while it can produce relationships within the group, there are two clear negatives that seem to arise. First is that these relationships need to be organic to truly grow, yet most small groups are artificial in their development, put together by the church leadership. Second, when these relationships do flourish, it is very easy to not become a community of the church, but little communities (or cliques) within the church.

4) Cultural Engagement – Here is the purpose of gathering on Sunday morning. Ephesians 4:11 – 13 tells us, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Sunday morning is the time to “equip his people for works or service.” Here God’s people come together to learn, to fellowship, to be built up, so that they can, in turn, take Christ to the world. Yes, small groups can prepare members for this, but too often it is just a time to gather with their group of friends, thinking inward and not outward.

5) Fulfilling the Role of the Church – This is a natural follow-up to the previous point. The role of the church is to teach and build-up the body for service. It is not to entertain or to, as Davis puts it, play matchmaker. When the church fulfills its God given role, we may just find that what the small groups have tried to manufacture, God will grow organically.

Final Thoughts

Am I saying that this will solve everything? Am I giving a guarantee that what Davis has presented is indeed the answer to any challenges in the church? Of course not. No one can do this, and I certainly do not have all the answers. Yet I believe that we need to be open to honestly evaluate our current practices. Are we doing them because it has become what everyone else is doing? Is our current model truly accomplishing what we intend it to do?

Is there a place for small group? Yes. But are small groups the miracle answer that many have come to believe? No. Whether we choose to use small groups or not, I think Davis’ point of the importance of Sunday School can not be dismissed.

Grace Applied

This fall we are going to do something that will seem crazy to many. We are going from a small group model to a Sunday school model (under a different name). Most church growth material over the past 20 years would advise against this move. We are a young, growing contemporary church. Why would we make that change? Here are five reasons.*

To Grow in Biblical Knowledge

The average committed evangelical today goes to church twice a month. Many churches don’t have an evening service so that means two times a month people are being taught the Bible. Couldn’t they just open a book? Yes, but most don’t.

Small groups are rarely times of Bible teaching, but Sunday school is. Small group leaders prepare for about 10 minutes while Sunday school teachers study and prepare all week. Beginning Sept. 10th, we will replace discussion groups about the sermons (which tend…

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“Risen”: A Fresh and Moving Perspective on the Resurrection

I just came back from seeing the new movie, “Risen”.  I recommend it highly.

I have seen a lot of Bible-themed and faith-based movies over the years. Risen is something encouragingly different. You see, the problem with most bible-themed and faith-based movies is they fall short in at least one of the major category. Either the writing is transparent, the acting weak, the directing is misguided or the production is cheap. Risen is a clear difference, hitting on all four cylinders.

Joseph Fiennes solid portrayal in the lead is moving and draws viewers into a well-told story. The story is summed up with one statement. When asked, “What frightens you?” Clavius (Fiennes) responds, “Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.” Yes, Clavius is a non-biblical/fictional figure, but he becomes the personification of each and every person who has faced the truth of the resurrection and said, it can’t be true. As he proceeds on behalf of the Roman empire in an attempt to prove the false claims, we are reminded of the words of Sherlock Holmes, in The Sign of the Four “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” This is where Clavius finds himself.

For those who are familiar with the account of Jesus resurrection, “Risen” provides a fresh perspective. For those who are not, they will find a compelling investigation as they see events through the eyes of a skeptic who must reconcile what he believes to be true with all the evidence that is laid before him.

Act Your Age

1031121453Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:27 – 30


Every kid has heard it at some point whether from a parent, a teacher or even a friend. You know when your just having lots of fun and your behavior begins to cross the line between silly and crazy. What is it they say, “Why don’t you act your age!” This of course leads to the inevitable question, “how is someone my age suppose to act?” It is a reasonable response, I mean who knows what the proper way to act is for someones age. (Well apparently mothers know, but none of the rest of us do.)

The truth is that there is no clear definition of how people act at a certain age. The real meaning behind what is being said is that your behavior is embarrassing me. When you are out in public, you represent this family and you behavior is making all of us look bad. Your conduct is leaving a bad impression on people who are seeing you . It should serve to remind us that the way we conduct ourselves can effect the way people view us or those we represent.

In Philippians 1:27 Paul reminds believers of this fact when he says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He is saying, “Don’t forget that you represent Christ to the world around you. What you do, will reflect on people’s impression of Christ.”   This is the same message that Peter reminds us of when he writes, “ but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15 – 16)

This is what we are called to do. To “conduct (ourselves) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And so that is what we do as a Christian. We always act the way we should. . . . That would be nice, wouldn’t it, but far to often we find ourselves not living in a manner worthy of Christ. Instead we find ourselves caught up in our own self-interest. We worry more about what people will think of us, than what they will think of Christ. We find ourselves caught up in petty squabbles with those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. As a result the world does not see the unity in Christ that should abound, but a people divided and tearing each other apart. We allow our self-righteous indignation to replace the love of Christ. As a result, the world sees only judgement and not forgiveness.

Paul reminds the Philippian believers that when their conduct is worthy, it will be evident. He writes, “whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit.” Yet at the same time, we are to stand for the truth. We must strive “together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose” the gospel. It is only when we stand solid in God’s truth, while “conducting (ourselves) in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” that the world will see Christ in us. It is through seeing Christ in our lives that the world will come to know Him.

So the next time you catch yourself acting in an unworthy manner, stop and ask yourself. Is this really how I want to represent Christ? Will people know Christ for who he is and what he offers through my behavior? If not, then take a step back and choose a new course of action that is worthy of the gospel of Christ.

What are your favorite Contemporary Christian Songs used in Church?

In the same vein as my previous series on hymns, I am planning a series on contemporary worship songs. To that end, I am asking each of you to share with me those contemporary songs from church that you have found most inspiring, that have spoken most deeply to you. This will allow me to compile a list that I can begin to work from as we look for how God can be glorified through them.

Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, But No One Wants To Go First

I had a friend in fire safety who used to use the expression, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go first.” I would dare say there is great truth in this statement. Think about it, most of us are excited about the prospect of going to heaven, of being in God’s presence surrounded by fellow believers.  Yet there are so many things in this world that we want to experience first. We have what is often called a “Bucket List.”

For many we want to go to college. We want to get married. We want to have children. We want to see our children grow up. We want to see our children get married. For others there are things like, I want to see the Grand Canyon. I want to visit every continent. I want to climb a mountain.

So many things we have that we want to do in this life. Once we have done these, then we will be ready to go to heaven. Once we have experienced all this life has to offer, then we will be ready to experience the next life. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go first.”

So how is it then that Paul can declare with such confidence, in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” “To die is gain?” Is Paul saying that dying is better than living? Is he saying that he wants to die? I certainly don’t think this is the case.

When we take the time to look at this statement in context, the real meaning begins to become clear to us. Paul had been arrested, basically, for preaching the Gospel, for fulfilling the call that God had placed on his life. When he was about to be beaten for declaring the truth he revealed to the Roman guards that he was a Roman citizen. As a result he was not beaten, but taken in to be questioned.  After bouncing around to a few different locations, it began to become clear that he was not guilty of what the others had charged him with. As the time went on  he took an unexpected step, he chose to appeal his case to Caesar, the right of a Roman citizen. As a result he had been transferred to Rome where he was held prisoner awaiting trial. While he awaited trial, he continued to preach the gospel to those who would listen. While under house arrest in Rome he learned that others were continuing to preach the gospel with passion. This is where we find Paul. Invigorated by the opportunity to preach the gospel to those in Caesar’s palace. Encouraged by the news that the Gospel continued to be preached by others. Yet keenly aware that Caesar could quite possibly order his death.

It is in this light that Paul declares, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul realized that his whole life was declaring the gospel of Christ, and that as long as he lived he could continue to encourage others in seeking Him. “To live is Christ.” Yet at the same time Paul longed to be in the presence of his Lord and Savior, a place he knew he would be should the end result be death. “To die is gain.” What a position to find himself in. What an attitude to have. This is what Donald Sunukjian refers to as a “Win – Win situation” in his book, “An Invitation To Philippians.”

As I think about it, I have to ask myself, “Could I have this same attitude?” “What would it take for me to view my life the same way?”

I certainly understand the first part of embracing my life for what I value, what I find important. But how can I bring myself to see the end of my life being even better? Part of the answer is found in my embracing what is important to my life and what Paul embraced as important to his life.  Paul did not say, “to live is to spend time with my family.” He did not say, “to live is to see amazing things.” And he did not say, “to live is to enjoy life.”

No, what Paul said was “to live is Christ.”  Now do you see the difference, “Christ.” What was important in Paul’s life was Christ. This is not to say that he did not enjoy things of this world, but that he saw everything he did as being for Christ. Christ was the center of his life. “To live is Christ.” This is the key to Paul being able to say, “to die is gain.” For if Christ was his whole life, what greater conclusion could there be than to stand in His presence. What greater joy could there be than to hear his Savior declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23) It is no wonder that Paul could say that “to die is gain.”

As believers in Christ there is no doubt that we do want to go to heaven. I pray for the day that I shall stand in his presence and hear his voice welcome me home. But are we ready to say that to die is gain and mean it? Are we ready to set aside the things of this world that hold our attention and distract us from Christ?  Only when we embrace that the purpose of our lives as believers is to glorify God and to make Him known.  Only when we live our lives for Him will we truly be able to join with Paul and declare with true belief that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”