Small groups...small groups...small groups. The word for today is "small groups" which is what many today are proposing as a prominent mechanism local churches must incorporate in order for intimate discipleship, genuine fellowship and "familyship" to occur among church members. This is the connector mechanism in both large and small churches that insure people have a group for their spiritual and personal necessities as a member of a local assembly...but wait!
An article worth reading deals with the nature of today's church small groups vs the pre-modernistic models and the very distinct departure from a biblical model which is seen in many former kinds to one of consensus and synthesis which is most common today, even in fundamentalist churches.
While we don't deserve any of God's gracious blessings, small groups do bring people together. So the issue here is not whether or not they are effective, but rather the nature of their effectiveness. Do they deepen our faith in God or our dependence on each other? Do they teach us to know and follow God's Word or do they promote subtle forms of compromise for the sake of unity in diversity? Do they encourage Biblical discernment or open-mindedness and tolerance for unbiblical beliefs and values? Finally, are they led by the Holy Spirit or driven by well-trained facilitators and the "felt needs" of the groups?
Today's facilitated small groups or teams are not like the old Bible studies many of us attended years ago. Back then, we discussed the Bible and its wonderful truths; now people dialogue until they reach an emotional form of unity based on "empathy" for diverse views and values. Dr. Robert Klench gave an excellent description of this process in his article, "What’s Wrong with the 21st Century Church?"
"Total Quality Management [TQM] is based upon the Hegelian dialectic, invented by Georg Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel, a transformational Marxist social psychologist. Briefly, the Hegelian dialectic process works like this: a diverse group of people (in the church, this is a mixture of believers (thesis) and unbelievers (antithesis), gather in a facilitated meeting (with a trained facilitator/teacher/group leader/change agent), using group dynamics (peer pressure), to discuss a social issue (or dialogue the Word of God), and reach a pre-determined outcome (consensus, compromise, or synthesis).
"When the Word of God is dialogued (as opposed to being taught didactically) between believers and unbelievers... and consensus is reached – agreement that all are comfortable with – then the message of God's Word has been watered down ever so slightly, and the participants have been conditioned to accept (and even celebrate) their compromise (synthesis). The new synthesis becomes the starting point (thesis) for the next meeting, and the process of continual change (innovation) continues.
"The fear of alienation from the group is the pressure that prevents an individual from standing firm for the truth of the Word of God, and such a one usually remains silent (self-editing). The fear of man (rejection) overrides the fear of God. The end result is a “paradigm shift” in how one processes factual information."
This process of synthesis is not limited only to settings (as described above) with unbelievers and believers but even more often with believers only and in this setting, with believers only, the problem does not go away. Believers can and do range from quite ignorant to very informed. However, if the dynamic of the Hegelian dialectic process ultimately is the objective, even those who are informed will allow for compromise and consensus forming because of the elevated value of "grouping" and the inevitable criticism for those rocking the boat with dogma. And in the end an assault is made on authoritative interpretation and instruction based on the greater need to keep the "group" together.
Groups themselves are only an anecdotal reality. That is to say, we should not feel the need to form a group, rather we should feel the need to find good teaching and inevitably a group of those with such interests will form. Hence the group will function appropriately with a head (instructor) and proper objective for its members which is to be taught, all the while also allowing discussion. But unlike the consensus building kind that is so rampant in our assemblies the instructor is able to disallow the group drift toward synthesis and always act as the master teacher guiding students into right thinking and away from wrong thinking.
The error, and in fact I would call propaganda, is that such a structured group as I describe (that is one with a teacher who instructs and facilitates with theological authority) is claimed by many to be counter-productive to the "connecting process". That is, if a teacher draws doctrinal lines then a group member might feel hurt or inhibited in expressing what they "believe" or "experience" regarding a biblical passage or topic and lose their sense of community or connectivity. Of course the obvious situation here is that in such a setting the student then becomes the teacher and all group members become their own teacher and there is no real learning rather just what the article points out, consensus building and self-serving sessions.
I personally have strong objections to the small group movement but not because groups, whether small or large, pose a problem but because the small group movement itself promotes, whether it realizes it or not, much of what is contained in the Hegelian dialectic process which does not serve a biblical end.
I recommend a thorough reading of the article.