Why Churches Should Not Replace Services with Small Groups

September 26, 2015

Numerous evangelical ministries have replaced certain weekly services with small groups. Other churches are also following suit. Clear teaching by the apostle Paul shows us, however, why churches should not replace these corporate worship services with small groups.

Essential Elements of Corporate Worship Services

First Corinthians 14 is one of the premier passages in Scripture concerning corporate worship. In vital teaching concerning the glorious efficacy of corporate worship that is done properly, the apostle Paul presents some essential elements of corporate worship:

1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

We must give thorough attention to this apostolic instruction and heed what it says.

First, Paul speaks of a gathering of the whole church (“If therefore the whole church . . .” [1 Cor. 14:23]). By definition, choosing to meet in small groups requires the splitting up of the people of a local church into several groups, none of which are the whole church. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 about corporate worship, therefore, does not apply to whatever takes place when believers meet in small groups.

Second, not only does Paul specify that the whole church is coming together, but also he states that the whole church is coming together into one place (“If therefore the whole church be come together into one place . . .” [1 Cor. 14:23]). Although many modern translations (for example, NAU, NIV, ESV, CSB, and NET—see below) leave out the words “into one place” or some equivalent rendering, the original text of the passage (regardless of which major manuscript family of Greek texts we examine) has these words and they must not be left out:

SCR 1Co 14:23 ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ, καὶ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλῶσιν, εἰσέλθωσι δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι. οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε;

BYZ 1 Corinthians 14:23 Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό, καὶ πάντες γλώσσαις λαλῶσιν, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε;

BGT 1Co 14:23 Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ πάντες λαλῶσιν γλώσσαις, εἰσέλθωσιν δὲ ἰδιῶται ἢ ἄπιστοι, οὐκ ἐροῦσιν ὅτι μαίνεσθε;

KJV 1Co 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?

NKJ 1Co 14:23 Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

NAU 1Co 14:23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?

NIV 1Co 14:23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

ESV 1Co 14:23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

CSB 1Co 14:23 Therefore if the whole church assembles together, and all are speaking in other languages, and people who are uninformed or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

NET 1Co 14:23 So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds?

Explicit apostolic teaching shows that the corporate worship that Paul is talking about here requires that all the believers of a local church meet together in one place—not separately in small groups in many different places, even in one town. Because small groups meet in differing locations, the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 about the vital efficacy of corporate worship does not apply to whatever takes places in small groups.

Third, Paul repeatedly stresses that it is the combined ministry of all the believers present together in one place that has the spiritual efficacy to bring needy people who come into their midst to be convicted of their sinfulness, repent, and worship God:

1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

Clearly, Paul is highlighting how God uses proper corporate ministry by all the believers of a church to bring people to worship Him aright!

Because an approach to believers assembling that employs small groups necessarily splits a church into groups, it automatically precludes any such combined ministry of all the church from taking place. Only God knows how many needy people have not received the vital ministry that He would have given them had churches had corporate worship services instead of small groups.

Discussion

Many churches have abandoned Sunday evening worship services and replaced them with small groups. The discussion above shows that doing so is a terrible mistake that precludes the church from enjoying the full usefulness that God would choose to make of that body of people were they to heed His explicit revelation in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25.

Some will argue that their church does meet corporately in one service a week but chooses to do small groups in place of other meetings that they might have had. Because we are not all-knowing so that we know when God would providentially direct needy people to our churches, churches should not choose to forfeit the additional opportunities for such ministry to needy people that these other regular services would provide—they should meet corporately in one place for their services on both Lord’s Day mornings and evenings.1

Believers who want to avail themselves of the potential benefits of meeting in small groups should do so at other times during the week because meeting in small groups is not a biblically authorized replacement for corporate worship services.

Conclusion

Plain apostolic teaching provides believers with vital instruction about the essential elements of corporate worship and the glorious efficacy of such worship in meeting the needs of needy people who come to one of those services. Scripture does not provide any such explicit teaching for small groups having that same efficacy.

Believers should heed the explicit instruction that the Spirit has provided them about corporate worship in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. Churches should not replace services with small groups!Service schedule MCBC post


 

1 I intend to treat why churches should not replace a mid-week prayer service with small groups in another post.

Rajesh

Posts

Copyright © 2011-2017 by Rajesh Gandhi. All rights reserved.

2 responses to Why Churches Should Not Replace Services with Small Groups

  1. Excellent thoughts.
    However, I’m curious about whether there is a Biblical mandate to hold corporate worship on Sunday nights? Is this schedule not based on tradition, verses command? I’d be interested in knowing the Biblical support of the Sunday school, Sunday am worship, Sunday pm worship, Wednesday evening prayer meeting schedule of the modern church.

    • I appreciate your feedback. I’m currently meditating much on the very questions that you have asked and hope to write what I believe Scripture teaches about some of them in the future. For now, I can offer you the following preliminary observations that are some of the leading considerations in my present thinking on the subject: (1) God makes known His will to His people in far more ways than just biblical mandates; (2) understanding what God desires from us concerning worship is a preeminently important subject that requires thorough attention to all that Scripture teaches about it; (3) undeniably, God wants NT believers to assemble together to worship Him on the Lord’s Day; (4) the available biblical data concerning apostolic worship of God profoundly underscores the importance and value of corporate worship, as I explained at some length in the post; and (5) some OT passages about worship provide biblical support (in the principle(s) they reveal) for believers meeting together in the morning and in the evening on the Lord’s Day for divine worship.

      Hope this helps. Thanks.