The other day, I talked about things that can prove obstacles to Gospel multiplication. At the end, I mentioned something specific to our current circumstance. I do not think that we were Tsunami proof. We were not ready for the crisis of the pandemic. There has been multiplication but it was vulnerable and fragile. Of course we trust God’s sovereignty through the pandemic but his sovereignty also works through us learning the lessons for the future.
My perceptions here are based on two things. First of all, whilst people assume that there will be a quick return to normal after Easter, history shows that pandemics and their aftermath can continue for a few years. As well as there still being a health affect, there have been psychological, economic and social affects too. This means we should not assume that people will be ready and eager for physical gathering and the appetite may take a little while to return. Secondly, we assume that the pandemic will be a once in 100 years’ experience but what if it isn’t. That doesn’t mean the next threat will be another pandemic like this but there are other medical threats around and other dangers too. We compare this to the 1918 flu pandemic but epidemics are a constant experience in other countries. Furthermore, it is only 12 years since the last major crisis to disrupt here, that time it was the financial crisis. Seven years earlier there had been the outbreak of Jihadi terrorism. I think we should be ready for some form of disruption every 7-10 years.
I think here that we will start to learn from the Asian church who have had to learn to respond to a whole mix of factors including pandemics but also authoritarian suppression. It’s fascinating that for the past 50 years their emphasis has been on the small group or cell. I’m not sure we have quite got that yet. Of course, we have our home groups but these are often Bible study groups and not quite the same. In effect, the idea of a cell would be that you have many of the key ingredients you need for a church all ready packaged up in micro form.
The encouraging thing is that some churches have chosen to invest in their small groups during the pandemic. I hope they will continue that investment going forward. It may well be that the small group will be the first place that some people are able to engage physically after the lockdowns. Indeed, this gives the possibility of starting with walks in the park, leading to garden meetings and eventually in homes.
The small group should hold together and feel like a family unit. This means that people should be calling each other within the group during the week to catch up and pray, not just leaving things until the Bible study.
Small groups need to be rounded. What I mean by that is we have often tended to treat them as information and education points, Bible studies with a bit of prayer tagged on at the end. I would encourage each group to have a specific mission for its neighbourhood and context and for there to be space for conversation, prayer, activity together, mission and ministering to one another with the gifts God has given us.
Multiplication of small groups means multiplication of leaders. That means we need to train and raise up those leaders. The groups and the leaders need to have multiplication in their DNA.