Belong Groups

What is the difference between small groups and cell groups?

The terms “small groups” and “cell groups” are often used interchangeably. So what’s the difference?

A quick answer is that all cell groups are small groups but not all small groups are cell groups. Small groups can meet specific needs of group members. Small groups have a history of benefiting the body of Christ and are one of the programs offered by a church congregation.

Cell groups are a specific type of small group that has a specific vision. Cell groups are not a program of the congregation. They are the most basic unit of the congregation. Cell groups are the smallest units of people who have teamed up to do the work of the community of believers as a whole.

In a cell group, believers come together in a covenant relationship to do kingdom. A covenant is a contract, just like a marriage covenant. The marriage covenant is expected to be willingly and intentionally entered into, and kept, regardless of what occurs (“for better or for worse...”); this is what a cell of believers agrees to do with each other. “Kingdom” is that mysterious “to come” but “already here” entity that Jesus alluded to so often. It is where the follower of Jesus experiences the transformation of life and becomes the carrier of what he has experienced. It is the vehicle where Jesus’ prayer that the invasion of heaven into the earth –“on earth as it is in heaven”– occurs.

Perhaps the best way of distinguishing between the two is in the application of the word koinonia.

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KOINONIA
Both small groups and cell groups place emphasis on what is called “fellowship.” The nature of a small group typically operates of the periphery of it while a cell group operates from the center.

The Greek word that occurs 20 times in the Bible and translated “fellowship” is “koinonia.” Koinonia’s primary meaning embraces concepts conveyed in the English terms of community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy. In the New Testament, the basis of communion begins with a joining of Jesus with the community of the faithful. This union is also experienced in practical daily life. The same bonds that link the individual to Jesus also link him or her with other faithful. The New Testament letters describe those bonds as so vital and genuine that a deep level of intimacy can be experienced among the members of a local church.

The term first occurs in Acts 2:42-47, where a striking description of the common life shared by the early Christian believers in Jerusalem is given: “They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers... And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God.”

The word is so rich in meaning that no single word in English is adequate to express its depth and richness and herein lies a significant difference between small groups and cell groups. Koinonia is a derivative of the word for “common” and uses this concept to express the fascinating Greek approach to building community or teamwork. The term embraced a strong commitment to an inner goodness toward virtue and an outer goodness toward social relationships. From the concept of outer goodness, it carries the idea of joint participation in something with someone, such as in a community, a team, an alliance or a joint-venture. It implies action in its meaning; it propels one to act or to do as opposed to being content to merely observe.

SHARING
The word carries the concept of being a “sharer” as in sharing with others a possession that is held in common as Jesus would do. It implies the spirit of giving as contrasted with selfish getting. When present, koinonia elicits a tangible and realistic expression of generosity and not simply an abstract ideal.

In classical Greek, it means "to have a share in a thing," as when two or more people own something together (joint ownership). It can imply "sharing an opinion" with someone, and therefore agreeing with him, or disagreeing in a congenial way. Only participation as a contributive member allows one to share in what others have. What is shared, received or given becomes the common ground through which koinonia becomes real.

RELATIONSHIPS
Additionally, in classical Greek, it means a companion, a partner or a joint-owner. So it can imply an association, common effort, or a partnership in common. The common ground by which the two parties are joined together creates an aligned relationship, such as a "fellowship" or "partnership". In the New Testament, (Luke 5:10) James, John, and Simon are called "partners" (koinonia). The joint participation was a shared fishing business.

Two people may enter into marriage in order to have "koinonia of life", i.e., to live together a life in which everything is shared. It was used to refer to the marriage bond, and it suggested a powerful common interest that could hold two or more persons together.

Koinonia can also relate to a spiritual relationship. In this sense, the meaning is something that is held and shared jointly with others for God. The first century Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus talks of religion as “aiming to have koinonia with Zeus.” The early Christian community saw this as a relationship with the Holy Spirit. In this context, koinonia highlights a higher purpose or mission that benefits the greater good of the members as a whole.

When people are recognized, share their joy and pains together and are united because of their common experiences, interests and goals, koinonia is used as “creating a bond between comrades.” Fellowship creates a mutual bond which overrides each individual’s pride, vanity, and individualism, fulfilling the human yearning with fraternity, belonging, and companionship. This meaning of koinonia accounts for the ease by which sharing and generosity flow. When combined with the spiritual implications of koinonia, fellowship provides a joint participation in God’s graces and denotes that common possession of spiritual values.

The early Greco-Roman had a “God-fellowship,” sharing the common experience of joys, fears, tears, and divine glory. In this manner, those who shared conducted their lives under the principle that their true wealth lay not in what they had, but in what they gave to others. Fellowship is never passive in the meaning of koinonia, it is always linked to action, not just being together, but also doing together.

COMMUNITY
The idea of community denotes a "common unity" of purpose and interests. By engaging in this united relationship, the group is spurred to a higher manner of thinking and action, empowering and encouraging its members to exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. Thus community and family become closely intertwined; aiming at a common unity strives to overcome brokenness, divisiveness, and, ultimately gaining wholeness with each of the members, with their environment, and with their God. By giving mutual support, friendship and family merge. There is no implied hierarch of command and control in the framework of community. While there is leadership, the leader’s task is to focus energy, and align interests, not impose control.

Koinonia creates a bond between brothers which builds trust and overcomes two of humanity’s deepest fears and insecurities: being betrayed and being demeaned.

At The Message, our purpose, design and desire is to create true koinonia and the truest expression of it is found in our B-Group cells.

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