In the remote villages of this region, it is our desire to plant small groups (grupos pequenos). Gatherings, in homes, of people interested not in religious services or man-made rules and rituals, but rather interested in getting together to share what God is teaching them, to share their struggles, failures and joys, and to pray for each other and those in their community.
What is a "church"? We have a tendency to see this "institution" through our 2009, western eyes, but what do we see in the first century church? This is especially important here because this culture is much more like the first century middle eastern culture than it is the modern North American culture. In the first church, we see groups meeting in homes, sharing a meal, seeking God’s will and direction, telling each other what they have been learning and experiencing, and praying together and for each other. Jesus indicated that where(ever) "two or three" would gather in His name, He would join them. The church and God’s presence really has nothing to do with a building. We want to plant churches, groups of people passionate about Jesus and His love, and people who long to grow in their relationship with Him and with each other. In this culture, if you build a building and call it a church, especially if you make it beautiful and add some bells and whistles, people will come to services. But is people attending services in a building a church? What if you strip away any appearance of religion and take away the building and the ritual? Most of those same people don’t come. This is such a religious culture that, it seems to me, we will only find those who seek Truth and God if we work without the religious trappings.
One of the Vineyard’s emphases is on the significance of small groups in the believer’s life. Simple, small groups that more offer support than polished performance. Groups where people are real and flawed and exposed, not wearing religious masks over their best clothing. Where people interact, ask questions, listen to God together, rather than attend a service and sit idly, listening to one person give a polished teaching and another offer long, pretty "prayers". Groups that will serve needs together, support each other personally through difficulties, and encourage one another Monday through Saturday.
We believe that the early church model is the model that God desires in the small villages of the Amazon Basin. If you seek to plant a more traditional church, you will fill a building with people and you will then be looking for gifted leaders, to pastor the same. These leaders, especially in the form of a humble servant, are greatly lacking. The people hungry for Jesus are lost in the crowd of people interested only in a religious service to make them feel "good". In a small group model, one’s focus turns to looking for hungry people, people who will meet in an "upper room" (this one will be on stilts!), listening for and waiting on God, while encouraging, supporting and learning from one another. Those interested in religion won’t come and the focus can be placed on the thirsty, those wanting real intimacy with their God. Here, they will learn to trust, and remain dependent on, the One who is the only Head of His body, the church.
We recently visited a small village and the next week one of the men from the village arrived in Porto de Moz and expressed great interest in beginning a "grupo pequeno" in his home of people really interested in pursuing relationship with God. This is beautiful, more so than big services, many one time "converts", or interest in building a beautiful building in his village and calling it a "church".
Are you participating in a small group? I would highly encourage you to find one (or lead one) where those involved have a heart to learn … learn to walk with God, learn God’s word, learn to love and support each other, learn to pray … Few things will impact your faith more than participation in a small group of devoted followers of Jesus.