In the earliest days of the church, small group fellowship was prevalent. On the day of Pentecost, when the 120-member church experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit, three thousand more were converted and baptized. From there, we are told they continued in doctrine (the apostles’ teaching) and in fellowship. They broke bread with one another. They prayed. They shared their possessions. They met for “corporate” worship in the temple but also met from house to house daily. (Acts 2:42-47)
It has been our tendency since that time to focus on corporate worship–the whole church in assembly for worship–with a varying emphasis on either praise or teaching. Of course, fellowship is a part of those meetings but often gets neglected.
What is fellowship?
By definition, fellowship means “to share, participate, have intimacy, and jointly contribute”. Throughout the New Testament, the same word is translated into communion, communication, distribution, contribution, and communicate.
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:15-16)
When the writer of Hebrews instructed the Jews on worship under the new covenant of grace, he reminded them to continue offering the sacrifice of praise–surely a concept they understood. But he went on to teach that we must do more than worship in the traditional ways. We must also give ourselves to one another. This is what he meant by communicate.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
If fellowship between the believer and unbeliever is like light meeting darkness, then fellowship between believers is like light meeting light. If you were to shine two lights together, it would be impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.
That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
As born again disciples, we have fellowship with God and Jesus Christ. If that fellowship is an example for the kind of fellowship disciples are to have with one another, we know it must be a close, personal, and very intimate one.
True fellowship goes deeper
Fellowship was meant to be something deeper than merely being together in the same place at the same time.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
This text in Hebrews is often used to make a case for attending worship with the church. But notice verse 24 which says we are to “consider” one another. That word, consider means “to observe fully or discover”.
We should be learning about one another. We should be sharing–about ourselves as well as our godly insights–with one another. We should be teaching one another. We should be discovering and utilizing our God-given gifts.
True fellowship fosters spiritual gifts
When one studies the Bible, it’s very difficult to nail down what a typical meeting of the church looked like. It never appears to be a standard format of singing, praying, and preaching. That’s because it wasn’t. There’s nothing wrong with the routines of our typical corporate worship services today, but they do fail in fostering spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are divided up and given to members of the church according to God’s grace and will. These gifts are to be used for the glory of God and the benefit of others in the church or the church as a whole. (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, Romans 12)
When exactly do we have an opportunity to discover these gifts or put them to use? During singing? During prayers? During the preaching? Not likely. It happens outside of corporate worship. It happens during fellowship. Specifically, it happens during the most intimate forms of fellowship such as one-on-one or small group meetings–often in our homes.
Small group fellowship in the Bible and beyond
Those baptized on the day of Pentecost still met in the temple for corporate worship but also visited from house to house (Acts 2:46). Philip shared his wisdom into the book of Isaiah with one man on a chariot ride (Acts 8:26-31). Paul often spoke with smaller groups after preaching for the full congregation (Acts 13:43-44). Paul met with Lydia and eventually baptized her entire family (Acts 16:13-15). They even met in prison which led to a jailer’s conversion (Acts 16:23-32).
As we read church history beyond the first century, small group–or house to house–fellowship has been all too common. For some churches in some parts of history, the entire focus was on Sunday morning worship. But for most, there has always been a balance between corporate worship and intimate fellowship within small groups.
Small group fellowship in practical terms
In order to follow the Bible’s pattern of believers meeting together outside of corporate worship, discovering and exercising spiritual gifts, and fulfilling our role to support, encourage, correct, and edify one another, we need small group fellowship.
But what exactly does small group fellowship look like?
This kind of fellowship often happens organically. When we visit one another in homes, we often find ourselves in very genuine conversations about topics of the Bible and how they relate to us. Sometimes we discuss our personal struggles. We give each other advice or share wisdom we’ve gleaned from biblical teaching or experience. Sometimes we simply pray together.
Now, what if we did this but did so intentionally? After all, we do have a tendency to become complacent. It’s very easy to get too busy or too distracted to give any thought to anything but the scheduled worship meetings at church. Perhaps it would be wise for us to redeem our time and set out to purposefully enjoy small group fellowship with one another (Ephesians 5:16).
I’ve suggested to Angier Church that we replace our Wednesday evening Bible study with small group meetings. Each family would be in rotation, week after week, to meet with another family or families in our homes. The groups would be much smaller and the meetings would be designed to do the very things mentioned before.