Although there is some argument over whether small groups should be open or closed, this post is written under the assumption that groups will be open, meaning, that new people are free and encouraged to join.
One of my greatest concerns in small group ministry is closed groups. I don’t want my groups to become little country clubs. Our society is exclusive enough the way it is. If there is any place that should be open to all it is within the structure of the church. Jesus was not exclusive, he was inclusive. Our goal as ministry and group leaders should be to want to see others experience the community that we have found.
I have always been an advocate that small groups are an excellent “on ramp” for unconnected people in our communities. Studies show that people who have built relationships within the church are more satisfied with their church bodies. Why wouldn’t we want to connect people to relationships before they even try us out on Sunday mornings? I haven’t seen research on this, but I suspect that those who build relationships within a small group before attending a church service are retained at a higher level than those who show up on Sundays first.
So the question that is raised is, “How do we safeguard openess when our natural tendency is to close off?” All of us want close relationships. Our humaness gets jealous when a friend makes a new friend. In groups we use excuses to justified closing off, like: “We will lose the trust.” There is no doubt that it will take time to rebuild the group’s intimacy level after new people join. But like everything else in our relationship with Christ, this group is not about you. We only get so much out of a group that becomes about us. Like every relationship we have, if our group becomes self-focused instead of looking to how we might build up the others, it will fail. So how do we focus our groups to remain open and outward focused?
1. Protect the vision.
As leaders we must protect the vision. When my wife and I are driving somewhere, if we get talking and focused on our conversations it is easy for me to drive on by our destination. The same goes for groups. It doesn’t take much to get off course. Imagine the jet that gets off course a few degrees. How far off course would it be in 10, 20, or 30 minutes? Leaders must keep an eye on the directional gauges of our groups. Verbal course correction is necessary every time we meet. Many leaders have said it…vision leaks. We have to remind our groups ALL THE TIME why we are here. We need to provide opportunities to serve others together to remain focused on why we are here.
2. Start your group with the intention of using it to plant new groups.
Use your group as a seed to reproduce. Make it part of the vision and then protect it. (Down the road I will discuss this process.)
3. Develop uniform starting and stopping times for all groups and start new topical groups each semester.
This is something I am still exploring myself, but there are churches out there that are putting this method into practice. This summer I experimented with this on a small scale. We stopped our regular groups and encouraged new people to try topical groups for a six week period while offering our “experienced groupers” to join in on the same opportunities. This gave new folks a chance to get to know people and our old-timers a chance to build relationships with people they may have never met.
Let me just say, IT IS HARD TO FIGHT HUMAN NATURE. We all get selfish. If you are a group member, lean into your group leader to stay focused on the vision. If you are a group leader, lean in to your coach or ministry leader to stay focused on the vision. If you are a ministry leader or coach, lean into those who mentor you up close or from afar. Lean into the vision!
What things have you done to keep your group open? Join in the discussion!