Break out of your sermon-format routine

The writer is pastor of the Churches of God UK, affiliated with the Churches of God Outreach Ministries. Write Mr. McBride at

By James McBride

LINCOLN, England--Increasingly, church attendance is seen as old hat, not worth the effort. It has been said that if someone falls asleep in church what you need to do is prod the preacher. Similarly we might ask if there is something wrong with church itself.

For most the Sabbath service--or Bible study--means taking a pew and listening. It's one-sided. The format isn't demanding, especially if the preacher needs a prod, and sometimes a little intrasermon nap is in order. Often we don't come away with much. But "That's how it's done" is the sentiment.

Of course, if you have 50 or 100 or more brethren in one spot there's not much else that can be done. Certainly there's a place for the big gathering to hear instruction. The festivals, joint meetings and special occasions are examples.

Yet the sermon format doesn't quite fit with the hints we have in the Scriptures for meetings of the Church of God. Perhaps we can explore alternatives.

Family plan

A theme that runs through the Bible is that of family. God is a family; He created our first parents as a family; He created Israel as a family.

The church is also a family. We are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God. Indeed the first assemblies of Christians were centered on families: households. Perhaps a dozen small groups met in Rome (Romans 16).

A warning: We mustn't view the first-century church through the denominational eyes of the 21st. The evidence of Scripture and history is that the early church was home-based. The church was one body, but it met in small family-sized groups in homes, each with a presiding elder appointed by common consent from the members of that group.

Meetings were, likely, just like a big family gathering with or without food (Acts 2:42-47). There were no lords; everyone was equal before Christ.

Although members met in little groups--each perhaps sharing a language or location--all the brethren in a town were known to each another, being from the one spiritual Body.

Laying on of hands (as for appointment to office or for illness) would bring together several elders from the scattered fellowships in that town (1 Timothy 4:14; James 5:14).

In modern terms this would mean that all the (true) Churches of God--for example, in greater London, Los Angeles or Sydney--would be in fraternal contact with one another. Meetings would in general be close to home.

Real relationships

The intimacy of a small group favors fellowship, prayer and personal growth. "Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing," said Paul, "but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25).

By face-to-face encounter--perhaps literally across a table--we can indeed encourage and pray for one another, learn one another's needs, share joys and sorrows, deploy our spiritual gifts. Such a format can aid our understanding and participation as the brethren or visitors have dialogue with one another.

You might like to check the verses in the Bible that talk about "one another" and "each other." The only conceivable way for us to adequately follow their guidance is through close, regular contact in a small group.

This kind of interaction favors and enhances the growth of the individual and of the whole church. The impersonality of a large assembly is a barrier and favors cliques, boredom, ignorance and apathy. No wonder so many folks don't go to church!

Action now

The small church makes sense, and it is a proper reflection of the biblical pattern. It's a concept the Church of God must grasp if it is to successfully prepare God's 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 (Ephesians 4:15). Surely this is a goal worth pursuing.

Every Christian is commissioned to "spread the Word," and a good base for it is the home church. A tiny group--two or three or even one--can share with friends, neighbors and relatives their Bible understanding where they are, in their home or in some other convenient place and in a relaxed and nonthreatening environment.

It is the foundation for a local assembly.

With such a stupendous gift package to unwrap, we can successfully come out of the closet. It's a challenge for every brother and sister in Christ.

Paul refers to longtime Christians who "by this time ought to be teachers" (Hebrews 5:12). Many readers of this article could be included. Could you, with perhaps a couple of like-minded brethren, invite friends and neighbors for an informal discussion of our precious truth?

You don't need big brother to give permission. You can develop as Christ guides you, in accordance with biblical principles--and appropriate to your gifts, circumstances and neighborhood and its needs.

You are not alone

However, it's vital you stay connected. Unless you are plugged in to other like-minded fellowships, you may sail into treacherous waters in which many have perished.

The Churches of God Outreach Ministries and our own Churches of God UK are umbrella associations of independent groups of any size. They offer support and resources and are a catalyst for cooperative evangelism. They also provide opportunity for discussion on all matters biblical.

You are invited to make your needs--and comments--known to us at Lincoln and to The Journal.

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