A Church of Groups

Small_GroupsThere is a huge difference between having a small group ministry and believing that small groups are vital to the health of the church. Churches that have small group ministries tend just to have hopped on the groups band-wagon, and follow suit because its trendy right now. Churches that believe small groups are vital to the health of the church see this as a particularly important means of developing spiritual community. Fundamentally this is the difference between having a few small groups in your church, and being a church of a groups. The one has some opportunities for community, the other emphasizes community as a central aspect of church life. A church of groups utilizes small groups to bring community to every area of church life.

If given the choice most of us will talk a admiringly about community, but still choose to do life on our own. We like the idea of community, but the not inconvenience of it. We like the concept, but not the responsibility. This explains why churches who merely have small group ministries generally have low participation rates, and/or have low-level of commitment from those involved. Community is a nice idea to most of us, but if it’s not stressed and central to the life of our church we’ll often just fake it. So, people might be in a small group but they often dread going and frequently miss. Others participate but that’s because groups only meet once every couple of weeks and for only an hour or two and they just discuss a book, watch a DVD, and pray. There’s nothing that’s really required of participants, and it certainly doesn’t involve them opening up their lives to others. This is also why participation in small group ministry is often like a revolving door. When we ask very little of the people involved in a ministry they sooner or later get bored with it and bail on it. Churches that emphasize the importance of genuine community, however, have a different outlook.

Community is about investment. It’s about investing in the well-being of others and allowing them to invest in your well-being. It means taking responsibility for the people in your group, opening your life up to them. It means confessing sin, holding each other accountable, divulging needs, and working together on mission. This is not something that happens in a two-hour meeting once a week, or once every other week. It’s not something that happens by means of studying a book together, or discussing a DVD lesson. It’s not something that happens with surface level participation and awareness. This requires real friendship, real commitment, real depth, and real engagement. I have written about various aspects of small group life over the last several weeks. The big idea, however, is on developing healthy community. That means community itself needs to be less about small group ministry and more about whole church ministry. That’s why I use the language of “A Church of Groups.”

My long-term goal for CBC is that groups would infiltrate everything we do together as a body. So, for example, as a counselor and as the leader of our Recovery program I want to think about how small group community might be useful to the people I care for. So in counseling individuals we are going to work long-term on some issue that is plaguing them, and eventually we are going to involve their small group in the growth process. We are going to invite the leader or another key individual into the counseling process to give some more help and support to those struggling. It’s the same with our Recovery Ministry. Men and women in our Recovery program are already getting investment in community. Whether they are engaged in the Support side of our ministry or in the STEPS program itself they are getting discipled by a table leader, a coach, and other spiritual friends. As they complete the program, however, it’s vital that they not simply drift back into the sea of people without some tight connections. We want to plug them into a small group, or reconnect them with their existing group. We want to invite the members of that group into the process of continued growth. Our goal is not that people simply attend small groups, but rather that they begin to see small groups as a vital part of their spiritual life.

I want people moving and mixing among small groups from every angle of church life. Instead of appointing a team of men from all over the church to work on a building project, I’d rather see several small groups team up together to do the work. Instead of randomly assembling a church softball team, I’d rather see small groups become teams. Instead of people coming to me for counseling, I’d prefer to equip small group leaders to be counselors, so that they can meet the needs of their groups. I want to find ways to connect everything back to this vital part of community development within the church. Whether its’ issues of church discipline, or music ensemble, or food preparation for church dinners, I want to have people interact with each other through groups, and groups to interact with other groups. I want to see discipleship, spiritual health, and crisis counseling all happening in groups. I firmly believe that a church of groups is going to provide the best health, accountability, and care for a whole congregation.

This is my vision for the future. It’s an audacious goal, I know. But I share it with you, my readers, so that you can help me realize it. Take this vision back to your small groups and discuss it. After all, what better way to achieve a vision for a church of groups than via our existing small groups. That is exactly what a church of groups would do.

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