Have you ever been part of a really bad small group*?
I know I have.
Some small groups are terrible because nobody talks. Others are terrible because no matter what the topic is some dude brings the whole discussion back to his hobby horse. Others make you want to hit yourself in the face with a 2 x4 simply because the second that you actually start looking like a legit life group super-spiritual-Sammy quotes a few Bible verses and shuts down any discussion.
One of the things that I am working on in our church at present is helping our life groups grow and become more focused. In doing this I’ve created a Life Group Leader Training**. One topic that we discussed was where Life Groups go south. Many of these are connected and only symptoms of other things. In this instance I shot with a shotgun instead of a rifle so the leaders could grab hold of something tangible. And I thought it might be good to share with you.
How Life Groups Go South
- By not seeing the necessity of community. If Life Groups are nothing more than a program they’ll go south pretty quickly. When they are viewed as vital to our life together then we’ll take them far more seriously.
- By not having ownership (leader, group). This is connected to the first one. If Life Groups are just the preachers idea it won’t go anywhere. Ownership of a Life Group (by both leader and group) is like the fuel that motivates many of the other things in this list. When you have ownership of something you’ll do the necessary work of changing what needs to change, like lovingly telling Hobby Horse Hank that he ought to talk about something else once in awhile.
- By being centered on something other than the gospel. Some groups can be centered on very good things—but soon enough they’ll go south. The only One powerful enough to bind together sinners into meaningful community is the Spirit. And the Spirit is about exalting Christ. When we start exalting something else as primary we lose our glue.
- By showing a lack of hospitality. Groups ought to be growing or else they will become stagnant and die. You can’t grow if you have really poor hospitality.
- By having a culture with a lack of gospel love. If Life Groups are really going to be life giving then there had better be an atmosphere of genuine repentance, confession, and love. How else will sinners come to find life?
- By not outward focused. If we are not careful our Life Groups can become cliques. One way to prevent this is to be intentionally outward focused. We always challenge our groups to think of unbelievers they could invite to join us.
- By only meeting when obligated. This is more of a symptom, but it is important. When Life Groups really love one another they’ll want to get together more than just when the group meets. It’s wise to schedule opportunities for this to happen.
- By not reproducing leaders. Leaders should always look for other leaders within their group. We are constantly challenging our Life Groups to grow and multiply into other Life Groups. This can only happen when leaders are being trained.
- By setting the expectations far too low. When we refuse to challenge our Life Groups we sign our names to their death sentence. We should search the Scriptures and paint a picture of community for our Life Groups that is as big and earth-shattering as what God paints. That’s where we aim as we celebrate baby-steps along that journey. Aiming at only what we think our people want is ripping off God’s people. If He intends to place them in a robust community how dare we attempt to create something different?
*Or life group, or community group, or cell group, or whatever you’ve decided to call your gathering of really cool and awesome people that get together to talk about Jesus and eat Doritos.
**In preparing for this I found myself repeatedly helped by Brad House’s excellent book Community. It’s possible that some of his wording or lists have slipped into this article. So, if you found something helpful credit him. If it’s dumb, it probably came from me.