One question I’m often asked is whether a group can close to new members because it has become too large. Although there are some exceptions in rare circumstances, the answer needs to be no, but let me explain why.
Let’s say there are six basic steps of maturity in the life of a believer: Worship, Group, Grow, Serve, Tell, Guide.
- Those who Worship generally attend the worship gatherings of a church.
- Those who participate in Group connect to a Small Group in a consistent manner.
- Those in the Grow category represent people with a generally active daily Bible study and prayer life which lead them to personal spiritual growth.
- Those who Serve, engage in ministry in some way, usually within the church.
- People who Tell share the gospel, at least occasionally.
- People who Guide are those who are actively discipling others, often those they have led to Christ. We should not simply assume that those who are leading a Small Group are in this category, particularly if they are not sharing Christ with others. Those who Guide lead others to Christian maturity. This is more than simply disseminating spiritual information.
We can use these six levels of growth to evaluate our Small Groups. For example, write down the six levels of growth and put a tally mark under each to represent the level of every member of your group. If we have no tally marks under Tell and Guide, that should reveal something about us as a leader and guide us in choosing our next Small Group study and experience.
You may also notice that in a given church, the number of people who are walking at that level decreases with each step. For illustration purposes, if we consider Worship being the 100% mark, then Group may be 60%, Grow may be 40%, Serve possibly 30%, Tell may be at 10% or less, and Guide may be 2%.
Also, notice that the first three maturity levels are more personal and the next three are more interpersonal. The first three could be categorized as “consumer” and the last three as “contributor.” Studies such as the Reveal Study, by Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, found that there is a significant drop-off between the last three levels of spiritual growth, which tend to be challenging.
So, what does that have to do with closed groups?
When we close our groups, we close the opportunity to collectively learn and practice the growth levels that are the most difficult to reach.
You have probably heard that people remember 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, but that they remember 90% of what they do according to research by Edgar Dale. Therefore, Small Group Leaders help people take leaps and strides toward spiritual maturity when the group practices the higher levels together. For many, reaching those higher levels will never happen if it doesn’t begin as a community. Group members need to experience a group that is open and inviting and welcoming. Group members should experience seeing others sharing Christ and then helping new believers grow in Christ.
Experiential learning in these higher levels is much better than telling people to “go make disciples” and then trusting that someone may actually go do that. “Jesus did that,” you say and rightly so, but he had spent three years of his life with the disciples modeling for them experientially what to do and how to do it. They were ready to be sent because he had done the modeling. We need to pay even more attention to what Jesus did with his small group and practice his model as best we can in our culture.
Back to the closed group discussion. We are no longer using the word closed. We use the words listed and unlisted. If a group is new and has experienced rapid growth or has way too many children and is not ready to multiply or has some very rare and specific issues going on, we will allow a group to be unlisted for a reason and for a season.
Unlisted means that the group is not viewable on the web in our GroupFinder or in our life stage directories available at the Small Groups Kiosk. Being unlisted cuts off the flow of people already in the church looking for a Small Group, who still have plenty of options. Being unlisted allows some relief while allowing the group to remain outwardly focused, inviting, and welcoming to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Welcoming graciously is one of the key values we covered in the “We Are” Sermon Series. Therefore, we never refuse someone from being a part of our group. If someone in our group wins a friend or neighbor or co-worker to Christ or is helping them take steps toward Christ, the group should be open to loving this person into the Kingdom. Small groups can be fertile soil for evangelism. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” What a great thing it is for a lost person to see believers loving one another in Biblical community.
More reasons next time!