As I take a journey into heading up the Small Group ministry at our church, I find it interesting how many equate Small Groups with Bible Studies. While they are somewhat similar, personally I find a big difference in the two.
Maybe it's just me, but I seldom have really gotten anything out of a Bible Study. It's not that the Bible doesn't have anything to offer nor that the there isn't content to learn, but I find that most Bible Studies come out of a book that is so focused on the Bible that it lacks any deep applicable material.
I know there are some studies out there that have changed peoples lives. I also know there are some really great Bible Study materials out there that do help facilitate a deeper relationship with God. On the other hand, most of the ones I have participated in have come across very shallow and have left me with very little to think about.
My experience with Small Groups could easily be different from that of many others. I have had several positive experiences and have seen them become a great tool in connection people to each other and connecting people to God.
One of the main differences, I believe, between a Small Group and a Bible Study is that the meetings don't always have to consist of a "study." Sometimes people just need to be people have learn to develop relationships with one another.
One of the biggest connection points in several of the small groups I have been in, is a basic "ice breaker," we do a lot of weeks that asks people to share a good thing and something not so good in their lives that has happened since the last meeting. It may sound simple, but allowing people to share something about themselves really allows people the opportunity to be open.
Another aspect of small groups that varies from a lot of Bible Studies is that they are very relationally based. When a small group is going well, the people in the group connect with each other on different levels through the week and friendships are created, many of which may not have been established otherwise. Those relationships allow people to have discussions about their lives, but also opens people up to discussing God and who He is.
Two other pieces, somewhat go hand in hand, that I believe are important and vary from Bible Studies, is the aspect of serving others together and being there for the other people in the group. I can look back at my life and see several instances where without our small group, life would have been significantly more challenging. When a group serves together they grow in a way that can seem impossible from the outside. Serving others puts us in a position to reflect Christ to other people. Sometimes, those that you are serving will be within the group. It is during those times people will know you truly care. I can only imagine how many needs are not met by a church, simply because no one knows about them. When you develop relationships with each other as a group, needs can be made known and needs can be met.
Honestly, there is so much more to a Small Group than what I listed. It's not about doing a once a week Bible Study together, but rather it's about doing life together.