What is the difference between Bible studies and gospel communities?

Someone asked this question in meeting I was in recently and would you believe it the very next day on Tim Chester’s blog was this post:

“I had a question recently on the difference between missional communities and small group Bible studies or house groups …

House groups often tend to be a weekly meeting. People talk about ‘house group night’ – the evening in which they ‘do’ house group by attending a meeting. A missional community is about a shared life, a network of relationships, a genuine community of people.

House groups are often centred around a Bible study. The Bible is central to the life of a missional community, but the Bible is read, discussed and lived throughout the week in the context of a shared life.

House groups are often insular and focused on the mutual care of their members. Pastoral care is a feature of missional communities, but they are also groups with a strong sense of mission. They can articulate their vision for mission and identify the specific people they are trying to reach.

House groups are normally managed centrally by the church leadership. Leaders are often fearful of house groups becoming independent. Missional communities are given a mandate to reproduce organically or spin off into church plants.”

In one sense call them what you like…

But Bible studies tend to be an event, or a programme that describes what we do on that evening.

A gospel community is not an event but an identity – we are a community in this area shaped by the gospel and one of the things we do together is read and discuss the Bible.

The Bible study event does not define the community – the identity of us as a community created and shaped by the gospel drives us to mission, community, eating together, doing good in our community, prayer… and of course Bible study.


~ by John on August 9, 2009.

6 Responses to “What is the difference between Bible studies and gospel communities?”

  1. Can I be bold and say that perhaps this is just a knee-jerk reaction against a bad experience of titular ‘home groups’?

    It seems to me that everything said is helpfully objective, and indeed has been my experience of traditional home groups. Until the autonomy of home-groups supposedly feared by leadership. That seems to be the only thing based solely on negative experience.

    In my experience, for what it’s worth, home-group leadership has been gospel-focussed, humbly under the direction and oversight of a similarly gospel-focussed leadership. Why is that suddenly a bad thing?

    Are missional communities advocating a mistrust of central leadership?

  2. Clint, like I said call them what you like… if your Bible study is operating not as a meeting but as a group of people with a gospel identity the call it whatever.

    But I do think that a name does describe the priorities and ethos that the group creates – a Bible study is by definition a task that is accomplished by a group of people gathering at a set place on a set night. Whereas a gospel Community is essentially an identity – a community that exists within the larger community for the communtiy because of the gospel. A GC is not tied to specific events, nights or gatherings, and may or may not choose to engage in these events.

    My experience of a number of churches is that no Bible Study ever understands itself in these terms, at best a collection of individuals who do some caring and reach out to their friends. But not a collective identity that sees community as central to mission and together engages the community around them.

    It is a reaction not a knee jerk one though! And it us a reaction based on biblical reflection and reacting to that, in the light of present ways of doing church. The one thing I think you would be hard pressed to say about Tim and the TCH guys is that there is a lack of Biblical reflection, that I think a knee jerk reaction implies.

    Your comment on central oversight of GCs is interesting in that it is not an issue about oversight – TCH has elders and they meet together. There is not a lack of oversight that I think I hear you questioning.

    The issue is how prepared are you to let these groups respond to what God is doing in their community, the wider community and how you see those groups are they simply smaller expressions of the bigger structure (hence central management need to be “rigid” in their oversight) or are these legitimate expressions of church on their own in which case they are able to be more flexible, autonomous and oversight is a bit looser in structure and more relational.

  3. Hey Clint,

    Really enjoying the questions and interaction – sorry you seem to get a mouthful from me everytime. But you know me enough to know how hard it is for me to stop talking (or writing in this case!)

  4. That’s ok John! I’m enjoying these discussions too. And believe me, I can also give a mouthful. Lucky thing you never had my work to mark at college!

    I’m just not completely convinced by the Crowded House methodology.

  5. Hey Clint,

    Why don’t we get the discussion working both ways then. How about you write a post for me outlining some of your issues. And then I will try respond, and will try get Micheal, Colin and some others in on the act. I might even see if Tim is game to respond…

  6. […] establish a gospel community in that area (For more on what is a gospel community – read this post or this […]

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