Abductive Columns

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Reimagine Small Groups

Just as we need to reimagine worship styles (is missional the new worship? read Wade Hodges excellent post for a thorough statement on this) we need to reimagine small groups. At one time small groups were herald as the answer to both intimacy and growth in churches but, early on, church leaders resisted the concept. Only the larger, more progressive churches began/established a small group ministry (I can remember my tribe feared another Crossroads/Boston movement/today known as the International Churches of Christ [ICC]). During this period organizations and many of the larger churches conducted small group workshops. During these sessions the idea of the empty chair and inviting those in their neighborhood came alive with: “they might not come to a church building but they’ll come to your home.”

This may have been as close as we came to spiritual cartography/goals for small group ministries. If so, at some point in time we lost our way. Most small groups I’ve been involved with have become another bible class with little to no hope of building intimacy.

What about the idea of small group evangelism? I’m not sure we ever got off the ground with that one, most likely because of the natural tension that exist between nurture and evangelism. Nurture comes natural, evangelism does not. I can remember the dialogue—should we incorporate nurture groups and evangelistic groups as one or should we form two separate groups? There was never clear direction on this so we went with what came natural--hoping we could be evangelistic without being intentional.

Is it time to reimagine small groups?


At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with you that small groups are quite beneficial. I am a member of a congregation, that utilizes small groups well. We call them "life groups". One caveat to this is that they have to be organized. This is to say that there needs to be some commanality between the memebers of the group, i.e. age, children, location, etc. While a small group program can be productive and meet the needs of many to develope closer ties with fellow memebers, there should be care in just assigning 10 people to a group.
We have been in small groups that we have thrived in and then there were others where we flt that the members were involved merely to check off the box of an evening worship, if we don't come here, then we have to go to the building.

Good post.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Fred,

I appreciate your words.

I think the great irony of most small group programs is that we insist on placing our institution in between a relational God and those longing for relationship with Him. I see this great desire to manage, strategize and direct relationship. Their is a real prideful illusion that we have that kind of power. And, There is no understanding that we are being so relationally destructive in the process. I think the proper dialogue is focusing on the relational model of Christ and relying on the directive, empowing presence of the Holy Spirit. I am just beginning to understand what that means but it is exciting.

I desire for be Jesus incarnate in my family, friendships and work. God is working in that daily. Small groups are a tremendous outpost where those of similar gifts and narrative can pull together for real-time encouragement and co-operation. So often though, the concerns of the machine of institutional church bog down, distract from or delay what God is doing within our groups.

Our greatest struggle is helping Christians see and realize the unique incarnate adventure and power that Christ has baptized them into in their life. We are so busy in our small groups. We are trying have another bible study. We struggle to manage the duality of materialism, individualism and self-centeredness with some resemblance of Christianity. Or, we are working 20 hours this week on a made for the church web page "outreach" project that has no long term relational result but make us feel better about our eternal justification.

I love to tell the story of the couple in our small group. They are COC lifers. They were recognized elders in the church and historically "very involved." They are in their late 60's. One night we were talking about being open to relationship with Christ and what that means. They both began to lament that "no-one ever invites them into their homes anymore" as they sat in my living room. They continued that "we don't share meals like we used to" as they ate snacks my wife had lovingly prepared. They finished that "no-one cares about their spiritual struggles and listens to what is bothering them" as we quietly and prayfully listened and encouraged.

The kingdom is powerful, dominant, victorious and good. Do we see it's reign? Do we know it's King? Will we faithfully water the mustard seed or do we continue to prune the plastic poinsetta?

Keep up the good work Fred.
Allen Coffman


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