Decision Point: Will Your Group Choose Maintenance or Mission?

Decision Point: Will Your Group Choose Maintenance or Mission?

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.

Decision Points

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:

Mission 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.

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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!

 CC Image • Robert Hextall on Flickr

About the author

Mike Mack Mike leads the Small Group Leadership ministry SmallGroupLeadership.com, training leaders, consulting with churches, and writing/editing small group resources. He was the Groups Minister at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, from 2001-2012 and has served in several other churches leading small group and discipleship ministries. He originally founded SmallGroups.com in 1996.

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9 Comments

  1. How do you believe proximity of residences plays into the decision point? In my experience, when small group members don’t live in close proximity of one another (defined by walking distance), they simply won’t get involved in much mission together, even if they desire to do so.

    They typically, as you mention, are excited at the start and seem to be motivated. But, as time and life get in the way, they become de-motivated when the flexibility, availability and spontaneity that close proximity bring isn’t present. Your take?

    • I do believe that proximity–that is, using neighborhood groups CAN help, but it doesn’t necessarily do so. In fact, I’ve seen neighborhood groups be the most inward-focused, navel-gazing, let-the-lost-go-to-hell groups around and I’ve seen groups in which members are separated by miles be the most servant-minded, lost-reaching groups in our ministry.

      I believe the main difference has little to do with geography or any other external criteria; it has to do the with the hearts of the members, with the influence of a godly, servant-leader.

      There is no program or small group philosophy that will make your groups more outward-focused. But when God gets in, changes people’s minds (Ro. 12:2), and transforms their hearts so that they better reflect the attitudes,compassion, and passion of Jesus, groups naturally start loving, serving, and reaching out to the people around them.

      • Thanks Mike – You bring up a great point. Just because proximity helps groups be more effective, they will only be so as far as their maturity will let them. To use a worldly metaphor, if a bunch of junior highers lived close together, you wouldn’t expect them to be very effective when it came to “adult” responsibilities. Thanks again for the thoughtful post.

  2. Awesome post Mike! Very informative! I really like this quote…

    “Holistic small groups are the natural place for Christians to learn to serve others—both inside and outside the group—with their spiritual gifts.”

  3. Andrew Mason /

    Mike Mack said
    We have adopted a culture of serving together in the groups at our church.

    Mike, obviously group leaders can be nudged by the coaches and pastors, but would you say the majority of responsibility for initiating this direction in a group begins with the small group leader specifically encouraging his or her group in this way? Is it fair to say if the group leader takes no action the group never will either? Is that too simple a conclusion?

  4. Thanks, Derek! 

    Mason, I don’t think your observation is simplistic at all! Sometimes a leader HAS to lead! In some group situations, of course, a Core Team Member (who IS a leader) or another member will spur the rest of the group on toward an outward-focused decision that will get the group out of a current slump. Often, I’ve found these “non-leaders” (although by the very fact that they are doing this makes them leaders, even without the title!) are people who have a passion and vision for serving, evangelism, or something else that is missional in nature. 

    BTW, in healthy groups, this kind of thing happens pretty naturally and unforced. Group members, especially, like I said, those with passion and vision that come out of a Vine-branch connection with Christ, “feel” the group sliding toward a plateau and will say something like, “You know, we haven’t talked about the lost people in our lives lately. Why don’t we share a little about the people we know who desperately need Jesus and then pray for them?” Or, it seems like it’s been a couple months since we’ve served. What could we do?” 

    BTW2, this is why I talk so much about the importance of being a Christ-centered group and for the group to be committed to spending time with God independently of the group meetings. If the only time they are opening their Bibles and spending time with God is at group meetings, you won’t see what I’m talking about here happen. But when folks are intimately connected to Christ, listening to him each day, missional living together comes naturally. 

     

  5. Andrew Mason /

    Mike Mack said
    …when folks are intimately connected to Christ, listening to him each day, missional living together comes naturally. 

    Great answer Mike!

     

  6. Great stuff Mike. What do you advise small group pastors to do in order to equip leaders to move in this direction?

  7. Scott, I feel like you are much more qualified to answer your question than I! For me, it comes down to training and coaching. I’ve always tried to train our leaders from the get-go that mission is what a small group is all about. I’ve tried putting it this way: A small group exists IN the environment of authentic, Christ-centered community, FOR discipleship, TO live in missional living together. I coach pastors to make this vision clear at every training opportunity, correspondence, one-on-one lunches with leaders, group visits, coach training, etc. Then, a main role of the coaches is to reinforce this vision at every opportunity. 

    Did I answer your question? I’d love to hear how you’d coach pastors in this situation. 

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