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Being & Building Followers & Friends of Jesus

Back in December I blogged that healthy small groups are friends. (See post here.) I'm not sure why, but this has recently become the most popular post on this blog. It was picked up recently by ChurchLeaders.com (here), and Debra commented,

Small groups often divide the church into cliques. The group forms, bonds, and no new people stand a chance of joining them. The more groups there are, the more segregated the church. New people see this right away, feel like an outsider, which they are, and don't go back.

Debra may be right IF a church's small groups have not been taught how to develop groups in healthy ways. I am working on Chapter 5 of my upcoming book 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group (available from TOUCH this Spring). This chapter is about healthy authentic community. A healthy community is never a closed clique. The marks of healthy community are that is open, inviting, welcoming, outward-focused, missional. Healthy community fulfills all of the Great Commandment by loving God, one another, and our neighbors as ourselves. See my blog, "Healthy Small Groups Are Friends with Non-Christ-followers."

The Best Small Group Leader Ever called his group "friends" (see John 15:12-17). Jesus led a small group and modeled for them how to live in healthy community. He said about himself, "I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders" (Matthew 9:13, The Message). That's what healthy small groups are here for, too!

A description of a healthy community is in Acts 2:42-47. The first five verses describe how these people were committed to Jesus and one another. The last verse shows the result. Their community life had the effect of "enjoying the favor of all the people," and because of this, "the Lord added to their number daily those those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

I love the way Richard Peace put this in his classic book, Small Group Evangelism:

In a successful [healthy] small group, love, acceptance and fellowship flow in unusual measure. This is the ideal situation in which to hear about the kingdom of God. In this context the "facts of the gospel" come through not as cold propositions but as living truths visible in the lives of others. In such an atmosphere a person is irresistibly drawn to Christ by his gracious presence.*

Debra described unhealthy small groups as what we might call "holy huddles." The problem is not in the huddle itself, however. Every successful team needs a safe place to huddle to put our arms around one another, catch a short breather, and encourage one another before running the next play to accomplish the team's mission. It breaks my heart to hear that these holy huddles are segregating Debra's church instead of enjoying the favor of all the people. I pray they will become healthy, Christ-centered communities that stop coddling insiders and truly invite outsiders.

 

Are your small groups closed cliques or healthy, Christ-centered missional communities?

What are you doing to break the holy huddles?

 

See original blog post at Small Group Leadership.

 

* Richard Peace, Small Group Evangelism: A Training Program for Reaching Out with the Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 67, 68.

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Comment by Angela Geddis on February 17, 2011 at 10:23am
thanks michael, it's fantastic to have someone who acts like a mentor. i appreciate your feedback. bless you.
Comment by Michael Mack on February 17, 2011 at 8:56am
Thanks for your comment, Angela! Sounds like you have a very healthy group that hears from God and understands what you are all called to do together as a group. You will see success if you continue to follow God's plans and purposes for you. Don't worry about success as others define it. I encourage you to continue listening to and obeying God as you lead your group. He will bless you and others through you.
Comment by Angela Geddis on February 17, 2011 at 7:19am
my small group is a group of 5 intercessors who meet every month for fellowship and once a week to intercede for pastors & prodigals (amongst other things). some of the church may have the idea that we are a clique despite regular invitations to the whole church to join us. to try to overcome this attitude little by little, we are each asking God for 1 person to encourage/desciple into the group. so far 1 other has joined us, and she is a real blessing and encouragemenrt to US. we have only just started, so it's early days yet, but i am ever hopeful that we will see success, and that God will increase in us and through us. Angela
Comment by Michael Mack on February 14, 2011 at 1:37pm
Thanks for your comments Jim and Donna. I have read Putman's Church Is a Team Sport, but it sounds like I need to read Real Life Discipleship as well. I love how strategic they are with their groups, which make them a healthy environment for people to grow. Their "model" may not work for everyone, but it is cool to read about.  I'm now working on a book called 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Small Group that will address some of the issues discussed here. (I may even include some of the comments, with attributions of course!) It will be available from TOUCH Publications this spring.
Comment by Donna Lynn Easton on February 14, 2011 at 12:43pm
I've seen some healthy small groups and I have been a part of some really unhealthy ones. I have a friend who along with her husband..every September would join a new homegroup.That I believe is the most healthy way to go about it.
Comment by Jim Watson on February 12, 2011 at 10:42pm
Real Life Ministries, in Post Falls Idaho was founded in 1998 with a Real Life Discipleship idea.  They currently have over 600 small groups with around 6,500 members modeling about the closest thing to Biblical discipleship I have seen.  They encourage a healthy group to consist of non believers, spiritual infants, S children, S young adults, and a spiritual parent as the the leader.  Their leaders are trained to distinguish where one is in their journey and provide what they need to grow.  Their sole intent is to reproduce committed disciple makers.  As spiritual parents mature they start a new group.  These groups provide exactly what Elaine noted in her comment 2/10 regarding opportunities for newbies to learn and not so newbies to teach as they mature in to future leaders.  Pretty incredible story of what is happening up there.  A couple good books with more detail are "Real Life Discipleship"  and "Church is a Team Sport" by Jim Putman.  I belong to a church in Oregon that is introducing this concept to key group leaders, as we speak, and is really getting some traction.
Comment by Michael Mack on February 10, 2011 at 12:13pm
Elaine, Thanks for your comment. It is encouraging to hear from others who have experienced healthy small groups and have grown in their faith because of it. (BTW, love your comment about married couples attending your group, but leaving as a couple!)  I've also noticed how healthy groups give people the courage to get out of their comfort zones and live for God by faith. It's good to know you've got the support and encouragement of good friends when you venture out!
Comment by Elaine Betts on February 10, 2011 at 11:37am
The small groups that I have been involved with over the years have been very healthy and open...It saddens me to read that some are nothing more than  "religious cliques"....I have facilitated small groups in the past...although they were composed of other singles like myself,  if  a married couple wanted to join us they were more than welcome ( as long as they came and left as a couple)....small groups were and still are, a wonderful place to give some "newbies" and some not so "new" in Christ,  opportunities to practice their giftings and ministering to others in a very safe and encouraging setting....this in turn gives them the God courage to jump out of the boat and just "Do it!" as Jesus directs them.:-)
Comment by Margie Williamson on February 7, 2011 at 1:27pm
Congrats on having your blog picked up by ChurchLeaders.com. Love seeing how God is using this.

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