Most healthy, growing churches have found that home groups, or Bible study groups, are an invaluable part of their life together, and Christ Church is no exception. They build friendships between church members in a way that isn’t always possible on Sundays, and enable a deeper personal engagement with the word of God. But home groups can run to seed, and become merely a social gathering with no clear focus to grow as disciples of Christ through the Bible and prayer. That is why I wrote the discussion paper that is copied below, (in a lightly edited version), and presented it first to the churchwardens, and then to the church council last December. It was came out of a lot of thinking and praying about homegroups this year, and was inspired by pages 347-355 of the excellent book The Vine Project by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, which the church council have been reading together, and which I highly recommend. The “four Ps” are a reference to pages 83-95, and the diagram is from page 96. This short video from Christ Church Tilehurst explains something of the vision behind it: https://youtu.be/8rpaRFSFAlA
How are we putting this into practise? First , rather like a Spiderman film, the Wednesday night homegroup is being rebooted. After taking a break for the autumn, we are restarting it as a Vine Group. Second, a new Vine Group is being started in Essen. I would love to start some more: at the very least, one in the North Düsseldorf or Duisburg area, one in South Düsseldorf, and one in the Meerbusch-Neuss area. Please let me know if you would like to be part of one, and especially if you could host one.
Vine Groups- a discussion paper
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”. John 15:5
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7.
What is a Vine Group?
- A Vine Group is a group of four to twelve Christians, who are all part of the same church, and who meet together regularly to listen to the Bible, pray together, work together, and encourage each other to persevere and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.
What is the purpose of a Vine Group?
- The purpose of a Vine Group is to encourage one another to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, the purpose of a Vine Group is that all its members will receive Christ a Lord and live with him as Lord (Colossians 2:6-7).
- A Vine Group should not be a static group where people only enjoy fellowship, or are cared for. It should be a dynamic group, where people are encouraged to grow as disciples. In terms of the diagram used by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, they are “moved to the right”:
- This is the main difference between a VG and a traditional homegroup: the purpose of growth in discipleship, and movement to the right is clear.
How does a Vine Group do this?
Through the four Ps:
- Proclamation: A significant part of the group meeting would be spent reading and listening to the Bible (God’s proclamation of his gospel). This is more than “Bible Study”; it means thinking about how to apply the Bible in daily life. To help this, the expectation is that VGs would normally look at the passage that has just been preached on at Christ Church. Each VG would need a trained leader, who could prepare and lead a simple, half-hour Bible study. Selecting and training leaders is the responsibility of the chaplain. If the leader could not be at a meeting, or could not prepare, then the VG should still meet, and use the “Swedish Method” of Bible study to look at the previous week’s passage.
- Prayer: A significant amount of time in each VG meeting should be spent in prayer for each other, the church, and the world, based on the passage just studied. This partly satisfies the need for a church prayer meeting.
- People: a VG is there to support each other to grow, by speaking God’s word to each other. Therefore, members spend part of each meeting talking about their lives as Christians in the past week, what they are thankful for, and what they need help with. It would also be expected that members work together. This might mean doing some street evangelism together, taking responsibility for one of the monthly church meals, or doing some work of practical Christian service together.
- Perseverance: VGs, like aspects of Christian life, require perseverance, and a degree of commitment from members. This should be made clear to people when the join a group. It is better that people are not part of a VG, than to join it without a clear commitment to the group.
How are Vine Groups started?
- At least four people are needed to start a VG. When a group grows to twelve people, the expectation would be that it splits, and forms two new groups.
- It may wise to have the expectation that a VG will have a limited life of two years, and then will be reviewed. It may continue as it is, split, or be dissolved. This would prevent the group from becoming complacent.
- Every VG should begin by using The Course of Your Life. This would be led by the chaplain. Using this course would establish a clear agenda for the group, teach people some basic methods of Bible study, enable potential leaders to be identified, and enable the chaplain to get to know VG members.
- One the group has finished The Course of Your Life, the chaplain should as soon as possible hand over to a leader from within the group. The chaplain should meet with all leaders at least three times a year.
- The “Home Groups” page on the church website should become a “Vine Groups” page, with the nature and purpose of a VG clearly explained. Vine Groups would then be the only “authorized” home groups advertised by the church.
- Nothing in this prevents church members from forming more informal, “unofficial” groups for Bible study and prayer. On the contrary, this is to be encouraged.
- Some thought needs to be given to how those who are not in Düsseldorf during the week can be part of a VG. A group that meets on a Sunday afternoon, maybe at Christ Church, is one possibility.
- I suggest that we start with the Wednesday evening home group. It already has an excellent leader, and a core of committed Christians. It has stopped meeting during autumn 2017, but plans to start again in January 2018. Therefore, I strongly believe that from January 2018 the Wednesday evening group should be re-founded as a VG.
- After this, two groups should be founded: one in the North Düsseldorf-Duisburg area, maybe taking in Essen, and one in the Meerbusch-Neuss area.
Why “Vine Groups”?
- The name is taken from the book The Vine Project, and links the groups to the ideas there. “Vine Clusters” would be another possibility.
- “Vine Groups” links the groups to John 15:1-5, and reminds us that the purpose of the group is growth in and from Christ.
- VGs are distinct from the “Vine Project Team” in the book The Vine Project, which has a wider remit; but they have the same purpose, and should support each other.
Books used in preparing this paper
Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach Dig Deeper! Tools to unearth the Bible’s treasures (Nottingham: IVP, 2005)
Colin Marshall Growth Groups. A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups (Sydney: Matthias Media, 1995)
Colin Marshall and Tony Payne “Appendix 3: Re-thinking small groups” in The Vine Project. Shaping your ministry culture around disciple making (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2016)
Orlando Saer Iron Sharpens Iron. Leading Bible oriented small groups that thrive (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2010)
STEPHEN WALTON 27TH NOVEMBER 2017