Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one
another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take through for what is noble in the sight of all.
Romans 12:15-17
Small groups are really at the heart of any strong church community. Because the members of the body of Christ are supposed to strengthen one another, and this can only happen in small numbers. Where there are small numbers, there is opportunity for dialogue, debate, vulnerability, support, and growth. The large group, the entire congregation, gathers for worship. Worship is where all the small groups come together to pray and to commune.
The communal worship of the large group is the essential thread that ties the whole community together. You can’t have the small groups apart from the large group. That’s why it isn’t appropriate to go to Bible study or youth group or even do philanthropy without being a regular worshipper.
At the same time, you can’t get individualized encouragement and support in a very large group. I know from experience, that when you are speaking in front of a group of a hundred people, the only way to position them is in theater-style seating, with the speaker up in front. An intimate discussion is impossible. A presentation to one hundred people is a lecture with a few questions. In a small group, the spacing is intimate, like a small circle. People know each other’s names. Everyone has a chance to talk and contribute.
Ideally small groups are actually small, 10-12 people is the ideal small group. Some of our small groups are larger than that. The small group is supposed to offer encouragement, empathy and a sense of accountability. When someone in the small group has a need, the other members are ready to jump in and help.
There is a sense of group identity, and with it a sense of mutuality and unity. While the small group may have a leader, it doesn’t have a hierarchy, it certainly doesn’t have cliques and factions. And even the leader of the small group needs encouragement and support from group members.
Many times in the Bible, we read about Christ seeking help from His disciples. He asked them to see if anyone had any food, before the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6) He asked them to go and find a donkey for Him to ride on into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19) He asked them to prepare a room for the Passover meal. (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22)
When He was about to be betrayed, and His soul was sorrowful, Jesus asked His disciples to just watch Him while He prayed. (Matthew 26) He didn’t ask them to “do” anything, just watch with Him so that He wouldn’t feel alone. Many times, the help we offer involves “doing” something. And sometimes it just involves being present. That is encouragement enough.
So, one specific goal in a small group is that no group member should ever feel alone. Keep tabs on one another. Work together, have fellowship together, and make sure that all group members feel part of the “together,” that no group member feels alone. And encourage your group leader. By virtue of them being the leader, they may at times feel alone.
The obvious benefit of belonging to a ministry is to have a place to use your talent for one of the church’s ministries—The choir is a place for those who sing, Sunday school for those who teach, etc. Belonging to a group gives you a place to be ministered to—Bible study is a place to learn. The other important, and overlooked/under-utilized benefit of belonging to any group, whether it is a ministry, or a small group, is that when you are “falling down” in your life, the group is there to pick you up. And when you are doing well in life, you come to the group so that you can pick up someone else who is falling down.
If the community is divided into smaller groups, then these small subsets serve as smaller communities within the larger community and they help encourage people in a personal way. When hundreds of people gather to worship on Sundays, it is sometimes hard to feel a connection to others. Indeed, we feel a connection to Christ and we may even feel that connection “with” others because others are present. But a ministry or small group will connect us “to” others, who can help support and encourage.
I encourage you to join a ministry or start a “small group” in the Church. Be it the choir, or Bible study, or a committee, there are many ministries to choose from. If there is a group that you think the church needs, ask how you can help to implement such a group. And inside of already established groups and ministries, we need to seek to change the paradigm from a group of people that we not only work with, but a group of people that we lean on for support, who can lean on us for support as well.
Lord, thank You for the many gifts that You have given us. Thank You for the opportunities to laugh and to make memories with special people. Thank You for the many opportunities to enjoy positive and wholesome activities. Lord, be with those who feel alone today and comfort them. Help me to recognize those who need some encouragement or help and always soften my heart so that I not only see a need but that I can step forward and meet it. Comfort me in the times I feel alone, and send people into my life who will encourage and help me as well. Amen.
Call or text someone from your ministry or small group today and offer words of encouragement!


Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced multiple books, you can view here:


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