Years ago when I worked in downtown Cincinnati, a newspaper called “The Downtowner” interviewed people for a feature they called Miss or Mr. Downtowner. One of the questions for a particular Miss Downtowner was, “What is one thing you’d most like to see?”
“More homeless shelters,” responded Miss Downtowner.
Later in the interview she was asked, “What would you do if you won the lottery?”
She said, “I’d buy an island and throw a huge party for all my friends.”
Miss Downtowner said she had a passion for the poor, but she wasn’t willing to count the cost herself. When provided the opportunity, she would do something for herself and her friends. Miss Downtowner is a sad illustration of many small groups today. Who does your group exist for? This is a decision you must make: to care only for yourselves or trust God and break your holy huddle to engage with Jesus in his mission.
Small groups who settle for safe and comfortable are not healthy and therefore do not grow. (By the way, the same can be said for individuals.) Groups stagnate when they remain in their holy huddles and do not get out on the field to take some holy risks and run some dramatic, game-on-the-line plays. Look at this graph:
Many groups start in an up-and-to-the-right trajectory. Things seem good. Participants are excited, even if nervously so. New Christians often start their new life in a similar path—getting to know God through his Word, learning what it means to follow Christ, growing fast.
In time, however, that growth slows and plateaus. The newness wears off. Conflicts arise. We settle into routines—often safe and comfortable routines. I’ve seen this plateaued state have two negative effects on individuals and groups: (1) They stay in this comfort zone for a long time, sometimes for the rest of their lives. They become satisfied with being comfortable. (2) The individual’s faith or the group life begins to wane, and the line begins to drop. Often groups at this stage begin to plunge downward—sometimes quickly.
The group comes to a decision point—a time when they must make a vital decision. They can continue to settle for comfort and not grow, or they can decide to do something risky, maybe even dangerous, to get out of their comfort zones. This often means leaving their huddles and going into their communities and the world to make an impact. Individuals and groups come to a number of these decision points during their lifetimes. Each time, they must make a decision to leave their comfort zones to grow.
Healthy Small Groups Serve
After extensive world-wide research of churches, Christian Schwarz reported, “Holistic small groups are the natural place for Christians to learn to serve others—both inside and outside the group—with their spiritual gifts.” The one thing I would add to his statement is the word healthy before holistic. Healthy groups serve out of the overflow of their relationships with God and one another.
We have adopted a culture of serving together in the groups at our church. For many group members it’s where they first learn to serve and develop a passion for serving. One of our groups started a ministry that makes and delivers sack lunches downtown on Sundays to serve the homeless. Now, a number of other groups take one week a month serving in this way. Another group started taking roses to widows on Valentine’s Day. When this ministry outgrew their group, other groups joined them. Several years ago, one of our couples groups organized a medical clinic that served nearly 400 people and involved a total of 375 volunteers! This group of five young couples with preschool kids is now planning their fourth clinic for later this year. These are just a few examples of ways our groups serve together. We’ve found that healthy groups serve, but also serving helps groups become healthier!
Christ came as a servant. As Christ-followers, serving is a reflection of who we are. We do not need any other motive to serve others. It should naturally overflow from our hearts as we live Christ-centered lives in community.
This article is adapted from Chapter 6 of Small Group Vital Signs: Seven Indicators of Health that Make Groups Flourish. Wondering how healthy your group is? Take the FREE Small Group Health Assessment HERE!