Small Groups and Spiritual Evaluations

small-groupsPastoring 150 people and pastoring 1,000 people is really different. I mean of course it’s not really different. People are people, and the same spiritual instruction from Scripture applies to the 1,000 as it does to the 150. But when I was helping to pastor a small rural congregation I knew everyone, knew the nature of their struggles, the details of their lives, and was able to pray regularly for every single member of my church. Now that I am helping to pastor a church of 1,000 it’s a lot more challenging. I don’t know everyone, and I don’t know the details of their lives. I am thankful not to be the only pastor on staff, but there is still a great challenge before us to pastor everyone under our care. This means, to some degree, we need to work hard at utilizing all the tools at our disposal to help in providing pastoral care and oversight for our congregation. Small Groups can provide us a unique way to track the spiritual growth of our congregation.

Small Groups exist as an opportunity for congregations to fulfill the “one another” commands of Scripture. The Bible is replete with commands that Christians care for one another. We are told to “love one another,” “instruct one another,” “pray for one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” and even to kiss one another – I’ll let you figure out how to work out that last one, but all the rest are pretty clear. The church as a whole is to be involved in mutual discipleship. In Small Groups people have a uniquely designed opportunity to do jus that. We have the opportunity to build intentional relationships where we can hold one another accountable, pray for one another, challenge one another, and support one another. As we grow together we are investing in the spiritual well-being of each other. It’s a tremendous gift to the church, particularly to large churches. It also provides us as a church an opportunity to track the spiritual growth of the congregation as a whole.

Small Group leaders are in a perfect position to observe and encourage spiritual growth in the members of their small group. As such I have been encouraging my small group leaders to utilize the Four C’s in their small group evaluations. As they spend time weekly with the members of their small group, and as they invest in one another’s lives I want them to look for these four characteristics of a disciple and help us track how growth is happening across our congregation. The Four C’s focus on Biblical Content, Christlike Character, Christian Community, and Discipleship Competency. A quick look at each of these characteristics is warranted.

First, our small groups are a great place to gauge a member’s knowledge of the Scriptures. Biblical Content is important for a disciple. We want to know that our folks are learning both how to study the Bible and what it says. Do the people in my small group know where the books of the Bible are. Do they often have trouble finding references or interpreting passages properly. Are they more prone to proof-texting? Are they more prone to share their opinions than Scripture? Are they able to accurately apply God’s Word to situations in their own lives and the lives of others? Do they understand how Christ is the center of the entire Bible? I want to make sure that the folks in my group are growing in their knowledge of the Word of God. If they don’t seem to have a good handle on the Scriptures it’s my job as a small group leader to help them. That’s a crucial area of spiritual growth and small group leaders are in a good position to gauge how the folks in their group are doing.

Christlike Character should follow from Biblical knowledge. Small Group leaders get to know the folks in their group at a deeper level than others generally do. They spend time with them week-in and week-out. They learn the commons struggles and frustrations of those in their group, they learn their temptations, behaviors, and attitudes. As such they are in a better place than others to help them grow and develop godly character. If I see a husband who consistently barks at his wife, is neglectful at home, or who worships his job I want to humbly and graciously help him to work through those issues. I want to see growth for the person who has a quick temper, who is constantly self-focused, who is lazy, who is proud. Of course, in turn, they are helping me too. They are looking for growth in my life and helping me work through issues. That’s one of the benefits of small groups: the mutual discipleship that can happen as we grow together. Our elders and staff can’t know these kinds of details about every single member of our fellowship, but small group leaders can and as such they can identify who is working on developing more Christlike character and who is not.

The importance of Christians community cannot be overstated in spiritual growth, that’s why I want my leaders keeping tabs on whose involved in community. Some people sign up for small groups but never attend, or attend but never participate. A leader will want to dig a little deeper and find out what’s going on with that person. We want to know if someone is living in isolation, or attempting to fly under the radar. We want people to be involved in the lives of others and allowing others to be involved in their lives. Small group leaders can help us track that information so we can be intentional about engaging folks on the periphery of church life.

Finally, I want to know how prepared our folks are to make other disciples. Discipleship Competency just means the ability to help others grow in godliness. If someone in your small group doesn’t know how to make disciples, doesn’t know how to use the Bible, is fearful of confronting, challenging, or rebuking others then you may want to direct them towards our Biblical Counseling program. If someone simply doesn’t know how to build healthy discipleship relationships then you as a leader may just want to invite them along as you do it with others. Train them by modelling it for them. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t make disciples, so it’s important that we help the members of our small group do exactly what the Lord Jesus has tasked all of us with doing. Everyone should be discipling someone, if there are folks in your groups who are not doing this you want to find out why and strategize to help them.

Small groups provide the church with a particularly practical and healthy way to track the spiritual growth of our congregation as a whole. By utilizing the small group leaders to help us track the Four C’s across our congregation we are better able to gauge how we are doing as a church. We are more prepared to target weak areas in our overall discipleship, and we are better prepared to help those who are particularly struggling. Small groups don’t operate on an island as some random ministry within the life of the church. They operate as one part of the overall goal to make disciples. To that end they can help the leaders of the church accomplish the tasks set before them. This is why, of course, it’s crucial to establish healthy small groups and healthy small group leaders – something I’ll talk about in the coming weeks.

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  1. […] Each is an essential part of growth in godliness. I have expounded on these four markers elsewhere, but here the point is to highlight how our simple definition makes evaluation more realistic and […]

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