By Chuck Griffin LifeTalk Editor
Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT): Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
As we continue an exploration of what makes Christian small groups effective, I’ll propose what I think is their greatest existential threat, short of the devil joining. The members, having begun to enjoy some level of spiritual intimacy, will want to “close the circle,” keeping new people out.
Now that I think about it, that may be how the devil gets in!
Small groups are, of course, Christian in their mission. And regardless of how a group may define its specific reason for existing, it has to continue carrying out the “Great Commission,” Jesus’ mandate that we make and grow new disciples.
So small group members find themselves maintaining a strange tension. They want spiritual intimacy, and at the same time, they want to be drawing what are essentially strangers into the group where secrets are sometimes shared.
To succeed, the members from the start have to be deeply intentional about growing and then splitting, birthing a new group. And frankly, this is where American Christians seem to struggle more than Christians in other, more communal cultures. I have witnessed and heard stories of small groups locking down, fearing they will lose something precious if they let new people join.
I recognize the instinct. We have to understand, however, that what we lose is what is sometimes called “organic growth,” the development of the body of Christ, where the Holy Spirit best goes to work in the world. A locked-down small group is like a dead cell in a body.
If each small group successfully draws enough new members to split each year, the number of small groups in an area can grow amazingly fast. You may remember geometric growth from math class: 1 becomes 2, 2 become 4, 4 become 8, 8 become 16, 16 become 32. Most churches would love to be able to say that in five years, 32 healthy small groups containing 150 or 200 active, thriving Christians would exist in their congregations.
I personally think it’s ideal if the first true small group in a congregation focuses on understanding how to evangelize, either reaching those who have never heard of Jesus Christ or re-energizing those who have fallen away. That way, evangelism DNA should remain in each new generation of small groups.
Along these lines, every small group needs both a dedicated leader and a leader in training, someone ready to depart with the new group when it’s time for a split. Having a leader in training also emphasizes the group’s seriousness about splitting.
Tomorrow, we’ll consider some core practices of small group members, the kind of activities that ensure the group remains truly Christian.
Lord, we don’t always get excited contemplating math, but we know what we’re really talking about is vibrant, vigorous life, the greatest blessing in your creation! Renew us with a deep understanding of how quickly the kingdom can grow, if only we cooperate. Amen.