Among the global church growth modes, cell-group churches impacted the world with their amazing vitality. In China, the cell-group church strives in another indigenous form.
The Bible study groups of the church in Guangdong's eastern Shantou city has trained thousands of believers to become the main force of local church ministries, according to an article entitled "The Role of Bible Study in Building up Believers and Training Volunteers" published by Shantou Christian Council & Three - Self Patriotic Movement (CC&TSPM) in 2007.
Training church volunteers through Bible study is necessary.
A pastoral staff of Shantou shared that in the earthly days of the Lord Jesus, apart from preaching the good news of the kingdom, he appointed twelve apostles and chose seventy others. They were trained and sent out to preach the gospel and establish churches in order to fulfill the Great Commandment. What Jesus did is also inspirational to today's churches - discipleship and equipment of Christian volunteers should be carried out with pastoring congregations. Since the influence of full-time pastoral staff is limited, the church should disciple and train volunteers who would like to devote themselves to ministries.
Status quo of the church in Shandong: volunteers who have grown up from Bible study are the principal force of church ministries.
It is said that there are about 14,000 members in seven churches located in the central city in Shantou. More than half of the congregations attend the monthly Holy Communion service. Around seven percent of the believers are members of local choirs and 20% join in the Bible study, as seven percent of the congregations are volunteers. A large portion of the volunteers have been cultivated in Bible study groups for a long term then recommended to serve in different church ministries, such as acolytes in the Communion service, receptionists, leaders of various teams including Bible study groups and visitation ministry, and Sunday school teachers.
While serving the church, those volunteers continue to grow in Bible study. Some of them were recommended to study in one-year theological program run by the church in Shantou and after graduation, work as voluntary pastors.
Operation of Bible study groups in Shantou churches: group study complements sermons given in big services.
Based on different demands of the congregations, the churches in Shantou have Bible study meetings on the Old Testament and the New Testament conducted in more than 150 small groups. The total attendance approximately reaches 3,000.
The specific process starts with pastoral workers in turns interpreting one chapter of the Bible in churches according to the book order of the Bible. Before the study, every preacher should make a syllabus of the Bible study, covering the theme, outlines of each paragraphs, key verses, discussion questions, and a short hymn related to that chapter. The syllabus is printed and the copies are handed out to every Bible study participants.
The Bible study takes place in two sessions. In the first session, a preacher explains one chapter to all the participants for one hour; later the attendees join the group fellowship. Sitting in a circle made of a dozen people, the group leader guides the members to discuss that chapter and the relevant questions written in the syllabus; the members seek for answers as the leader controls the time and content in order not to stray from the point, leads them to share their understanding, and proposes the correct conclusion after synthesizing their points. During the group fellowship, the pastoral staff make the round of small groups and join any group who needs help.
Group fellowship makes believers feel the warmth.
The group fellowship is appealing to believers. If a member is absent, the group leader contacts him or her to know the reason. Suppose that believer is weak in faith, comfort and encouragement are given to him or her; if he or she suffers from any physical sickness, the team pray for him or her; if necessary, a home visit can be paid. Many members are trained in the Bible study and also taste sweetness in the fellowship of love and church life.
Training for Bible study group leaders is the focus.
Although pastoral workers can join any group in need, Bible study group leaders act as key leaders since the number of the full-time staff are not many. Therefore, the discipleship and training for group leaders becomes a key part in pastoral work. Some churches hold a prior Bible study meeting for group leaders; in the meeting, the leaders are convened to study one chapter before the group study.
Good results of Bible study groups: many believers have been built up to serve the church.
Since the discipleship for volunteers is a long-lasting ministry, the long-term Bible study in Shantou churches meets that demand. Now that many mature volunteers have been trained well in the groups and play the primary role in various church ministries.
- Translated by Karen Luo